Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles Part 1 – Romans 15:14-17
Pastor Mark Hardy February 16, 2014
Hugh Latimer, the Bishop of Worchester who held to reformed doctrines, once preached before King Henry VIII of England. Henry was greatly displeased by the boldness in the sermon and ordered Latimer to preach again on the following Sunday and apologize for the offence he had given. The next Sunday, after reading his text, he thus began his sermon by saying this:
“Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life, if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest—upon Whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.”
He then preached the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday—and with considerably more energy. What a great example of boldness!
Boldness is the resolve of mind and will to do what is right in the face of fear, rebuff, difficulty or danger, regardless of the cost. It is to be courageous, brave and daring. This morning we are going to be looking at an aspect of the boldness of the apostle Paul.
Paul has just completed the main body of his letter concerning the nature and implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which included the more strictly doctrinal section of chapters 1-11 and the more strictly practical section in 12:1-15:13. Now he gives a very personal conclusion in 15:14-16:27 that contains various elements and is the longest of all his letters. Turn in your Bible to 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. This morning we will be looking at only the first three characteristics.
The first characteristic of Paul’s unique apostolic ministry is this:
I. It was personally Received by God’s Grace
A. Look at v. 14: And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
1. Here we see that Paul begins his conclusion by sincerely commending the Roman Christians. He was well aware that throughout his letter he had at times boldly exhorted this church which he had not founded nor ever visited.
2. Therefore, concerned that they might misinterpret this as being presumptuous or harsh or that he had a low estimation of them, he emphasizes first the high regard he has for the church as a whole. This is not flattery but beautiful example of courtesy and tactfulness.
3. Notice his warm approval and loving affection toward them in calling them, “my brethren,” my dear brothers and sisters in God’s family. He then emphatically conveys his own personal confidence in their Christian virtue in saying, “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are…” (Stop there)
4. Paul had not only heard about their Christian faith that was being proclaimed throughout the whole world, which he commended back in 1:8, but now he stands “convinced” (pepeismai), fully assured and persuaded that other qualities about them are true.
5. Since there were trusted people in Rome that he knew and talked to, which we will see in chapter 16, Paul himself is confident that the information he had received about their strengths, as well as their weaknesses, was accurate.
B. Paul then proceeds to commend them for three specific qualities. Look again what he says, “…I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.”
1. The first quality is that they “are full of goodness.”
• The word “goodness” (agathosunes) speaks of high moral character and uprightness in conduct. Paul believed that the Roman believers had a deep concern to what is good and right.
• Obviously, this is not innate goodness which fallen beings do not possess, for Jesus said in Matthew 19:17 that only God is good.
• However, since all true believers possess the indwelling Spirit of God (8:9), their goodness was the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) being manifested in their lives. This only happens as believers’ depend on Him and allowed Him to control their daily lives.
• The Roman Christians were not perfect, as we saw by some of their struggles, but they were “full of goodness.” Their high moral character and upright conduct gave evidence that the Holy Spirit was greatly transforming their lives into Christ’s image.
2. The second quality is that they are “filled with all knowledge.”
• The word “knowledge” (gnoseos) here refers to a deep understanding of the Christian faith and God’s gospel of sovereign grace.
• When Paul says that they were “filled” (pepleromenoi) with this knowledge he doesn’t mean that they knew everything exhaustively, but rather they understood the full scope of Christian truth. And it is interesting that this word is in the passive tense in the Greek, indicating that it is God Himself who gave them this knowledge.
• In 2 Peter 1:3 we read, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
• Now most likely Paul combines the moral character of goodness with biblical knowledge here because these are the qualities needed to solve the problem between the “strong” and the “weak” believers in the church, as well as other problems.
• John Murray said it like this, “Goodness is the quality which will constrain the strong to refrain from what will injure the weak and knowledge is the attainment that will correct weakness of faith.” (pg. 209)
3. The third quality is that they are “able also to admonish one another.”
• The word “able” (dunamenoi) here means power, ability or competency. Since it is in the present tense, Paul is indicating that the Roman believers are constantly enabled through their godly moral character and biblical knowledge to “admonish one another.”
• The word “admonish” (nouthetein) literally means “to put in mind.” It has to do with appealing to and influencing believers’ minds through instruction, exhortation, warning, encouragement, correction, rebuke, and advising.
• Paul said in Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (3:16) “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, will all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another…”
• The word “admonish” is a comprehensive term for counseling, which today is often called “spiritual direction” and “mentoring,” but essentially is the same thing. Counseling is a facet of discipleship.
• I have always had a difficult time with those who claim that God’s Word is sufficient and then go or send people outside the church, the people of God, to get help for their personal problems.
• I totally agree with John MacArthur when he says, “There is no such thing as a psychological problem. All personal problems are either spiritual or physical. Anyone who suggests that so-called psychological problems can exist apart from or between those two realms of human existence does not understand either the nature of man and the power of sin or the nature and power of God’s Word and Spirit.” (pg. 328)
• Now spiritual problems can also become physical problems, for which medication may be required. But all non-medical problems are at root spiritual problems. As I’ve said before, we are always living out our true heart relationship with Jesus in how we relate with other people.
• Now there are three primary “means of grace” that God uses to get people saved and sanctified: The Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God. What a privilege and responsibility we have as God’s people to be used by Him in each other’s lives.
• Christians counseling Christians is the way God intended. This is why from this statement “able to admonish one another,” former Christian counselor Jay Adams entitled one of his books “Competent to Counsel.”
• All believers of good moral character and biblical knowledge are competent to counsel. Obviously, due to possessing certain spiritual gifts, levels of maturity, and degrees of biblical knowledge some will do it better than others, but every believer is responsible to encourage and strengthen other believers by lovingly and meaningfully speaking God’s truth into their lives (Prov. 27:6, 17; Eph. 4:15; Heb. 10:24-25).
• We are not only responsible to do this, but the Spirit of God using the people of God who are richly informed by the Word of God are divinely equipped to do so. For we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
4. May we all aspire to be like the Roman believers in these three specific qualities! Now having commended the church in Rome, Paul now gives two reasons for his boldness in writing to them.
C. The first reason is to remind them of certain truths they already knew. Look at the first part of v. 15: But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, (Stop there)
1. Throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans he has written “very boldly” (tolmeroteros) to them on “some points” of concern. In other words, he has dared to make very direct and authoritative statements on certain topics to people he had never met.
2. Such things as: not letting sin reign in their mortal body (6:12-19; 8:9); not being proud (11:17-18, 24-25; 12:3); obediently exercising their spiritual gifts (12:6-8); being in subjection to the governing authorities (13:1-3); paying their taxes and having proper respect for those to whom it is due (13:8); and particularly telling the “strong” and the “weak” believers in the church to not condemn and judge each other in matters of personal preference, but instead show Christlike love and mutual acceptance to one another (14:1-15:13).
3. And the first reason Paul says he did this is “…so as to remind you again.” The word “remind” (epanamimneskon) means “to call back to mind, to put one in remembrance again.”
4. Now obviously there were many things in his letter that they had not known before. But Paul is confident that the things he wrote “very boldly” about are certain truths they already knew and simply needed to be reminded of.
5. Life in this fallen, sinful world, along with the enemies of indwelling sin and Satan and his demons, has a way of knocking us off track, blurring our spiritual vision, and causing us to lose sight of biblical priorities. Therefore, refresher courses are always in order.
6. It is a true statement that “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Repeatedly in the Scriptures God’s people are told to remember the biblical truths they had already been taught.
7. Peter said in 2 Peter 1:12, “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.”
8. And he goes on to say in 3:1-2, “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.”
(1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 3:1; 1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2:8, 14; Tit. 3:1; Heb. 2:1; Jude 5, 17)
9. No matter how spiritually mature we may be, we all need to be regularly reminded of the truths of God’s Word we already know—who God is, who we are in Christ, why we are here, where we are going, and what God wants us to be doing right now.
D. The second reason for Paul’s boldness in writing to them is to explain that he’s simply fulfilling his divine commission. Look at the second part of v. 15: because of the grace that was given me from God,
1. The “grace” (charin) that Paul was “given from…God” is not God’s saving or sustaining grace, but the grace of his divinely-bestowed apostolic mandate and authority to proclaim the gospel. In other words, Paul’s unique apostolic ministry was personally received by God’s grace.
2. Formerly Saul of Tarsus, Paul persecuted Christians with unrelenting pursuit. But one day while on his way to Damascus he was struck blind by the resurrected and glorified Christ, who by His unfathomable grace that cannot be earned or deserved, not only saved Paul, but also called and commissioned him as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16; 26:12-20; Rom. 1:1, 5; 11:13; 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:10; Gal. 1:16; 2:9; Eph. 3:2, 7-8; Col. 1:25).
3. As an apostle of Jesus Christ Paul spoke with the full authority of Christ, as if Christ Himself was speaking. This is why even though Paul had not founded the Roman church nor ever visited it, all of his “very bold” reminders to the Roman believers were rooted in his God-given apostolic authority.
4. The second characteristic of Paul’s unique apostolic ministry is this:
II. It was a Priestly ministry before God
A. Paul now explains how he perceived his unique apostolic ministry to the Gentiles in v. 16: to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
1. Notice that Paul first describes the purpose for which God called him to be an apostle: “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” The word “minister” (leitourgon) here denotes priestly ministry before God.
2. Paul confirms this meaning by his use of Old Testament sacrificial language in the rest of the verse with such words as “priest,” “offering,” “acceptable,” and “sanctified.” However, it is important to understand that his use of this sacrificial language is metaphorical or figurative not literal.
3. Paul simply takes terms that pertained to an Old Testament priest who offered sanctified animal sacrifices that were acceptable to God and applies them figuratively to his gospel ministry in the New Testament.
4. Don’t think for a minute that Paul sees himself as a literal priest making literal sacrifices. He doesn’t!
5. Paul was a priest in the same way that all believers’ are priests, except in a unique way as the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter describes all believers as spiritual priests in 1 Peter 2:5 saying, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
6. He goes on to say in v. 9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (Rev. 1:6; 20:6)
7. Whereas the Old Testament high priest was only allowed to enter the holy of holies once a year, since Christ’s atoning death on the cross once for all time right now every believer has personal, direct, and continual access to God through Jesus Christ. This was beautifully symbolized by God Himself tearing of the veil of the Temple from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death, signifying that the way into God’s presence was now open to all through a new and living way (Heb. 10:19-22).
8. Under the New Covenant, Jesus Christ alone is our great High Priest, who perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood (Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 8:1). No longer is there a human mediator or earthly institution of priesthood as under the Old Covenant.
9. First Timothy 2:5 proclaims, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
10. The “priesthood of believers” means that we now have the privilege of coming into God’s presence anytime and anywhere. For Hebrews 4:14-16 declares, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot symbolize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
B. Having described himself as “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles,” Paul then explains this further saying, “…ministering as a priest the gospel of God.”
1. Here we see the dignity and sacredness in which Paul views his proclamation of the “gospel of God,” which is the gospel originated by Him not invented by man. Paul views his gospel ministry as a holy ministry, a priestly service to God that is an act of worship to Him.
2. Although we do not have the same unique apostolic ministry that Paul did, do we see our Christian service to God as a solemn and sacred act? We should because it is!
C. Paul then goes on to state the purpose or goal of his gospel ministry, “…so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable,” (Stop there)
1. The word “offering” (prosthora) speaks of a sacrifice offered on the altar. Now notice again that Paul says “my offering of the Gentiles.”
2. In his priestly ministry what he is offering to God is not the sacrifice of a slain animal, but the offering of believing Gentiles themselves. And notice that his sacrifice consisting of believing Gentiles is “acceptable” (euprosdektos) or well-pleasing to God.
3. And the only reason these believing Gentiles are “acceptable” or pleasing to God is because they have been “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The word “sanctified” (hegiasmene) means to be set apart for divine purposes.
4. Paul’s use of the term sanctified is very significant because his Jewish opponents would have regarded all Gentiles as “unclean” since they were not circumcised. And yet, God Himself through His indwelling Holy Spirit set apart these believing Gentiles by turning them from unclean and sinful people into a holy offering that is now fit for the service and praise of a holy God.
5. F.F. Bruce makes the observation, “Similarly, Peter at the Council of Jerusalem reminds his Jewish fellow-believers how, when Gentiles heard the gospel, God gave them ‘the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith (Act 15:8-9).” (pg. 261)
6. Paul recognized that this is exactly what God did. Therefore, in fulfillment of his unique apostolic calling, Paul’s offering to God was a multitude of Gentiles, who by virtue of the Holy’s Spirit’s power had been sanctified (Isa. 66:20).
7. The third characteristic of Paul’s unique apostolic ministry is this:
III. It was all Accomplished for God’s Glory
A. Now drawing a conclusion from what he has just said about his God-given priestly ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul states in v. 17: Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.
1. Although the word “boasting” (kauchesin) can mean “to speak with excessive pride, to glorify oneself or one’s accomplishments, to brag, and to blow one’s own trumpet,” this is not what Paul means here.
2. Notice that he says his “reason for boasting” is not in his own wisdom or abilities or accomplishments, but is only “in Christ Jesus” and “in things pertaining to God,” which refers to the proclamation of the gospel.
3. Paul knew that any success he had in his priestly ministry to the Gentiles was not his own doing, but was the work of God’s grace in and through his life. He was only the instrument by which the power of God flowed as he depended on him (Phil. 4:13).
4. And the same thing is true for us as well! God is responsible for everything good in and through our lives. Therefore, He alone gets all the credit and glory.
5. May we always remember what Jeremiah 9:23-24 says: Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.
In closing, let me ask you: How do you perceive your Christian service to Jesus Christ? May we truly see it as the holy ministry and sacred service that it is! And like Paul, may we all through our own God-given spiritual gifts, which He has given each of us by His grace, bring glory to God through our acceptable offerings to Him.