Summary: Paul’s ministry, like ours was one which relied not just on the power of God, but on many fellow workers sharing the load in the fellowship of the gospel.
The King of Syria was having trouble in his war with Israel. Every time he set up an ambush, Elisha, the prophet, would warn the king of Israel. So the King of Syria decided to send an army to capture Elisha to put an end to this nuisance. The army arrived at Dothan where Elisha lived and surrounded it during the night. The next morning Elisha’s servant looks out the gate of the city and sees this great army surrounding them. He calls Elisha and asks him what they should do. Elisha looks out and says "Don’t worry. There’s more on our side than on theirs." Now the servant knows that this is just a small town, with a few guards perhaps, but certainly not an army that can oppose the Syrians. So he isn’t convinced by what Elisha has said. Then Elisha prays that God would open the servant’s eyes.
God opens his eyes and suddenly he can see the mountain around them full of horses and chariots of fire come to protect Elisha. God then strikes the Syrians blind and Elisha leads them off to Samaria to the King. Elisha was the sort of guy you didn’t mess with, because God was with him working miracles through him, protecting him. With God on his side he was a one man army. But it isn’t always like that. Sometimes God works alone or through one individual, but more often he works through those who serve him.
So when Joshua led the people of Israel into the promised land, God worked at times miraculously, but mostly through the hard work and effort of the army of Israel. When the Temple had to be built, it was the workmen who laboured to raise the timbers and stones that got it done. It was the people who gave money and goods who provided the timber and stone and the internal decorations and fittings.
When Jesus came he chose 12 men to become his disciples, to work with him and to be sent out after he left to continue his work.
So we get this interesting picture in the Scriptures, of God the all powerful creator, who creates the world out of nothing, yet who chooses to use people in his service.
That’s the picture we find here in these last couple of chapters of Romans as Paul speaks about his mission to the Gentiles. Here we see both aspects of God at work. First working through an individual to do great works of power as the gospel is proclaimed but then we see how Paul’s mission is actually that of a missionary society.
A Ministry of an individual
First he reminds them that the reason he’s written in such detail and with such force is that God has given him the grace to have a particular ministry to the Gentiles. He’s confident about them, that they’re full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another, because he knows that God has been at work among them. So he feels he can boast about the work he’s done among them, not because he’s done anything worthy of praise, but because Christ has been working through him. Look at v18 & 19: "For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ."
The results he’s achieved have come about through the power of God, through the Holy Spirit working in him through both word and deeds to win obedience from the Gentiles to the gospel of God. And God’s power at work within him has been so great that the whole section of the world that he’s been working in has been touched by the gospel. He says the gospel of Christ has been proclaimed in an arc from Jerusalem to Illyricum.
I guess you’ve all heard the expression, ’the four corners of the earth’. Well, in Paul’s day that was a bit easier to define than it is today. In those days the earth was the Mediterranean and the lands around it. Mediterranean literally means middle earth. So the world could be divided into 4 quarters. Paul has literally seen the gospel spread across one of those quarters, in an arc from Jerusalem to Illyricum. His method was a simple but strategic one. He’d concentrate at each stage on a new area where the gospel hadn’t yet been proclaimed. He’d go to places that were geographically strategic; to major cities that were crossroads of trade, to Syrian Antioch, Pisidian Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi. And as a result, the gospel had spread. And, as we’ll see in a moment, he appointed others to share his work of proclaiming the gospel and building up the church.