Summary: This message is from my expository series through the book of Romans.
“The Gospel vs. Religion”
September 14, 2008
Religion is a dud; the gospel is dynamite. I did a little fact-checking on dynamite this week:
• It is not the same as “TNT”; in fact, the only similarity between them is that they both explode!
• Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel, whom we know better for instituting the Nobel Peace Prize, given annually to people who promote peace, and occasionally to people who spin outlandish tales involving pseudo-science.
• For many decades, the leading exporter of dynamite in the world was South Africa.
• Dynamite is actually largely made of nitroglycerin, so if you have a heart condition and stick it under your tongue, you should either get relief or explode. At any rate…
Last week we took a look at the theme of the book of Romans, and today we continue. We said last week that the point of Romans was the gospel, and that the point of the gospel is Jesus Christ, that without Him, we have nothing.
I. Paul’s Deep Regard for the Romans
Before Paul gets into the body of the letter itself, he wants to make certain to say some very personal things to the Roman believers themselves.
A. “I am thankful” - :8
If “all roads lead to Rome”, then what was happening in Rome was being found out in the rest of the world, and the gospel had taken root there. Roses were springing up; Christians were being made in the cultural center of the ancient world, and word was getting out!
B. “I am praying” - :9
Two prayer requests: one, for them generally; two, for his ability to visit them for the purpose of strengthening them in the faith. I think that both types of prayer requests are valid. It is great to pray for God’s general blessings on others; it is also important to pray specifically at times for particular things. And Paul says, “I pray without ceasing”. I fear that for too many of us, “out of sight is out of mind”, and yet for Paul, unceasing prayer, even for people he’d never met, was altogether appropriate.
C. “I want to minister to you” - :10b-11
What does Paul mean by “some spiritual gift” that he longs to impart to them? Usually, when we think of “spiritual gifts”, we first think of individualized gifts that the Holy Spirit grants that will differ from believer to believer. Some of us have one gift, and some have another, but the point is that in Scripture, notably Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, it is clear that it is the Holy Spirit who gives spiritual gifts, and not a given apostle of God. More likely, because he doesn’t know their particular situation and their particular needs in detail, his desire is to find out in what way(s) he can best benefit them, and share in that way with them.
D. “I want to be ministered to by you” – :12
If you ever are tempted to think that our relationship as pastor/parishioners is some one-way thing whereby I do the giving and you do the receiving, please, please think again! Paul’s attitude is that there are some things that he lacks which can be supplied by the Romans!
E. “I want to win some in Rome to Christ” - :13
As Paul makes clear, if it’d been entirely up to him, he’d have already been in Rome by now, but anticipating the time when he’ll actually get there, he says, “I want to reap some harvest among you”. Paul had a genuine concern for lost people, and thus he speaks of his desire to win some to Christ. Let me tell you this: as a follower of Christ, there is no greater joy than helping another person come to know Him, a joy I hope each of you experience!
II. Paul’s Deep Desire to Minister the Gospel
Religion is a dud, but the gospel is dynamite. And Paul has a deep desire to minister that gospel. Note his attitude:
A. “I am obligated” - :14
Our text uses the word “obligated”, and that’s my word in the outline, but there is an even deeper meaning in view, a sense of “debt” (KJV: “debtor”). In what sense is Paul a debtor to the Romans? Have they given him anything which he is responsible to pay back? No…but there is another way to be in debt to another. If I give you $1000 with the charge to pay it to another party, then you “owe” that third party the $1K. It is in this sense that Paul is in debt to Greeks and barbarians; i.e., to both the cultured and the uncultured, because God has entrusted something to him with the directive that he pass it along to others. And notice the “target” of Paul’s preaching, if you will: “Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish”. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, but not just to the educated; his mission was to the uneducated as well. In other words, everybody! I don’t want to steal too much thunder from the text below, but the gospel is for everybody, and we as believers have an obligation to anyone/everyone in this world. Here’s a paraphrase: “I owe the debt of sharing the gospel with whites and non-whites, to Americans and Indonesians and Europeans and Asians, to AIDS patients, to the poor and needy, to the wealthy who trust in riches rather than in God. I owe a debt to bankers and bellhops, to Ph.Ds and schoolboys, to lawyers and laborers.” Paul is obligated and therefore,