Summary: Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. It’s the power of God for salvation for those who believe
What I want to do today is to look at these opening verses of this letter to the Romans and think about why Paul wrote it. What we’ll find is that Paul’s motivation comes from a sense of responsibility for the great gift God has given him in the gospel, his confidence comes from the power of God he sees at work in the gospel, which brings a righteousness that comes from God alone and overarching it all his single focus and the primary focus of the gospel proclamation is Jesus Christ and his victory over death. We’re going to start at v7 rather than v1, but I assure you we will return to the first section before we finish.
An Occasional Letter (7-13)
It’s always worth paying particular attention to the opening few verses or paragraphs of Paul’s letters because you’ll often find there a summary of what he wants to say, or the reason that he’s writing. And so it is here. As we read vs7-13 we discover that this is something of an occasional letter. That is, it’s written for a particular occasion. Now we’ll also discover that it has a more general purpose, that is, to clarify the nature of the gospel, but the first reason for writing appears here: he’s writing because he’s hoping to come to visit them. He’s preparing the groundwork for a possible visit, which we discover when we get to ch 15, will be en route to Spain.
But he also says that he’s writing because he longs to share with them some spiritual gift to strengthen them. In fact he hopes that he too might be encouraged by their faith so that their encouragement might be mutual. In other words he isn’t coming as the great guru to dole out spiritual riches that only he possesses. There’s a mutuality about his ministry that’s part of his motivation for wanting to come to them.
What does it mean for you, to share the gospel? Does it sound like something that’s a bit threatening? As someone said after we’d read Jesus’ call to begin to fish for people a couple of weeks ago, does it feel like you’re supposed to go out and bag a few trophies? We were talking yesterday at out vestry planning day about how scary the ’E’ word can be. Well, it’s instructive to see how Paul expresses his desire to share the gospel with the Romans. He isn’t wanting to chalk up a few more victories. He isn’t looking to bag some dumb fish in the net of the gospel. What does he say?
He says "I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you." We’ll see in a moment that he wants to share the gospel with people because it will bring them salvation. This is a gift from God that he brings. When we tell people about our faith in God, we’re inviting them to receive that same gift from God that we’ve received, the gift of eternal life. This is a service we’re doing them, out of love.
Well, let’s think about his motivation, because he tells us about it in the next couple of verses
His Motivation (14-15)
He says "I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15--hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome." Now what does he mean when he says he’s a debtor? In what way is he indebted to all people? It’s obviously not a personal debt. It’s too generalised for that. When he talks about Greeks and barbarians he simply means everyone. So why is he indebted to everyone?
Well, clearly, part of the answer comes from his call by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles. God has saved him and inherent in that salvation was a call to take the gospel to the Gentiles. So he bears a responsibility for the way that task is carried out. He says he feels under obligation to those who haven’t yet heard the gospel.
But you have to think from what he goes on to say that this isn’t just an obligation that arises from a sense of duty. Rather it’s the sort of obligation that a medical researcher might feel if they make a great discovery. An obligation to let people know. To publish their findings so people’s illnesses can be cured. I remember hearing about some research that was being done some years ago to test the effect of aspirin as a blood thinner for people suffering from heart disease. The test involved a double blind test with one group taking half an aspirin a day and the other group taking a placebo. As the tests progressed the researchers discovered such a marked improvement in those taking the aspirin that they actually cancelled the rest of the experiment because they didn’t think it was fair for the control group to miss out on the benefits that were clearly flowing to the first group from taking the aspirin. They felt they had an obligation to all their patients to give them the best treatment possible. Well, that’s the sort of obligation that Paul seems to feels as he thinks about the benefit that can be derived from hearing the gospel. And so he talks about his confidence in the gospel.