Summary: Paul tells the believers at Rome why he is so eager to visit them; because he is a debtor to and is not ashamed of the Gospel.
I think that most people want to visit the capital city of their homeland. I remember when my parents took the family to London when we were in our teens. To visit the capital was quite an occasion, especially nearly 50 years ago when travelling wasn’t so easy as it is now. It was quite something to press the Buckingham Palace railings, to walk around the Houses of Parliament, visit Madame Tussauds, a ride on the Underground and so many other sights. It brings back memories.
The apostle Paul also had a longing to visit the capital of the empire - the Roman Empire - Rome, the most important city of the world at that time. He wrote to his friends at Rome that he was really keen to visit their city. Rome was a symbol of imperial pride and power. People spoke of it with awe. Everybody hoped to visit Rome at least once in his or her lifetime, in order to stare and wonder. There’s a saying, "Visit Rome and die!" But Paul wasn’t going as a mere tourist.
"I AM EAGER"
This is the first of three personal statements Paul makes in connection with his visit to Rome (Rom 1:15). He had visited quite a number of cities in his itinerant ministry. If you look at a map of the world of his day and compare the names with his missionary journeys recorded in the Acts of the Apostles you’d see how extensive his travelling had been. But it wasn’t even that he wanted to tick Rome off as another city that he ministered in - he had a higher reason: "I am eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome" (1:15).
Isn’t it stimulating to hear of someone who’s eager; someone who’s filled with enthusiasm for a task? It’s true the enthusiast can sometimes "go over the top" and do something embarrassing, but as it’s been said, "It’s easier to cool down a fanatic than warm up a corpse!" William Booth said, "I want my religion like my tea - hot!" The apostle Paul had the same standard of Christian service: "I am eager ... " - he just couldn’t wait to get to Rome to continue his work for the Lord.
Orthodox Christianity deplores the error of the cults but we have to admire the enthusiasm they bring to their mission, often putting us to shame. I like the eagerness expressed in Charles Wesley’s verse: "My talents, gifts and graces, Lord, Into thy blessed hands receive; And let me live to preach thy Word, And let me to thy glory live; My every sacred moment spend In publishing the sinners’ Friend." Richard Baxter, the Puritan preacher of the 17th century conveys the urgency, the zeal of Christian witness when he said, "I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men!"
"I am eager to preach," wrote Paul, but of course not all are called to preach. There are many tasks to be done in serving the Lord - some are up-front, but many are behind the scenes, but all are equally important in the Master’s eyes. Those that are hidden from the public view probably require more eagerness than those seen by others. There’s a quaint but true saying: "It takes more grace than tongue can tell to play the second fiddle well."
Christian service is often a team effort. The apostle told the Christians at Corinth that the work of the Church wasn’t centred on him as the pastor or leader. "We are God’s fellow workers", he wrote (I Cor 3:9). We admire the courage and skill of the astronauts who go into space and even to the Moon, but they couldn’t possibly do it without the support of thousands of back-up workers at the space-centre. It’s been put rather well that the only difference between a missionary and someone at home is geography, provided both are truly committed to Jesus Christ.
I came across some thought-provoking questions, "At the close of life, the question will be: Not, "How much have you got?" but "How much have you given?" Not "How much have you won?" but "How much have you done?" Not "How much have you saved?" but "How much have you sacrificed?" It will be "How much have you loved and served?" Not "How much were you honoured?" The apostle Paul shouldn’t have much trouble, bearing in mind his words, "I am eager" but I wonder how will we answer those pertinent questions?
Paul has stated his eagerness to travel to Rome to preach the gospel but then he goes on to explain in two further statements what motivated his evangelistic enthusiasm. In the first place, he wrote:
"I AM A DEBTOR"