Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, Iowa on 9/17/2017
Open your bibles to Romans 1:8-15. Today we are in a text that serves as a good example of how preaching through a book of the Bible verse by verse forces you to preach text that you normally wouldn’t. Our text today is not controversial, nor does it not cover a topic such as marriage or money, nor is it necessarily deeply theological. In fact, this text today is somewhat transitional from the introduction of Paul’s letter down into the meat that we will begin to unpack next Sunday, God willing.
However, we know that Jesus Christ himself said in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Every word means every word. Our Scripture for today is bread for our soul. It is not white noise, or filler. It is the breath of God given to us to train us, to equip us, to sanctify us, and we must see it this way as we walk through our text today. We cannot zone out. We must have teachable spirits and ask God for his Word this morning to divide our soul and spirit and reveal to us the sin that clings to us, slowing us down from running at full speed the race for God. So with that said, let us read our text and pray that God would give us spiritual ears to hear what He has ordained for us this morning.
As we step into this section, it would be wise to remind ourselves how Paul ended his opening remarks in verses 1-7. Look at verse 5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” The primary purpose of Paul’s life was to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of the name of Jesus. This is what got him out of bed each morning, this call upon his life. That the name of Jesus would be hallowed in all four corners of this world. Why? Because he loved his Master. Jesus was Paul’s greatest treasure, therefore, Paul laid down his life for the glory of Christ.
Born Again Theologians Love People
With that in mind we see something interesting in verse 8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” Right after Paul lays out his opening remarks and before he lays out the greatest treatise on the gospel ever written, he turns his attention to his brothers and sisters in the Church of Rome. I think this is so important, especially for us here at Cornerstone Church.
Paul was a very learned man. First, before his conversion, he was a Pharisee. That meant that he loved the Bible. In his day that would have only been the Old Testament. As a Pharisee he would have poured over the Old Testament day after day. Most likely he would have had at least the first five books of the Old Testament memorized, if not more.
In Acts 22:3 Paul tells us that he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel.” We are told in Acts 5:34 that Gamaliel was a teacher of the law and was a part of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling council of the Jewish religion. Therefore, not only was Paul a Pharisee, but he was taught by the cream of the crop.
In Acts 26:24 we get a glimpse of how the average man viewed Paul. Festus, a Roman procurator, said to Paul, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Paul was viewed by those who knew him deeply intellectual.
And then in 2 Timothy 4:13 we another glimpse of the apostle Paul in his old age saying to young Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
To say that Paul was a man of intellect may be a vast understatement. Paul was a thinker. He thought and wrote deeply about theological topics. As we work through Romans we will see evidences of this all over the place.
However, his brain was not disconnected from his heart. Not only was Paul a lover of the knowledge of God, he was a lover of people. These two are not mutually exclusive. On the mind of Paul as he writes this letter are his brothers and sisters in Christ, both the ones that exist and the ones who will exist through the preaching of the gospel.
And the reason that I say that this point is so crucial for Cornerstone is that we are an intellectual bunch of people, in that we tend to love doctrine. We are studiers of God’s Word. We, like Paul, read books and parchments. We sit at the feet of good Biblical teachers such as MacArthur, Piper, Sproul. Henry Owens, and Edwards. However, ultimately we should be lovers of God and lovers of people. We cannot allow our pursuit of knowing God to undermine our love for God and a love for his people. As it says in 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” So like Paul, let us make sure our pursuit of knowledge is not an end in and of itself, but that is has a purpose, to magnify the name of Christ and to love fellow man, especially the Church.
I Thank God for You
So how does this love for the people in Roman manifest itself in Paul’s life? It works it way out of Paul through grateful prayer. Paul, despite not being physically with his spiritual family who are in Rome, prays for them. In fact he says in verse 9 and 10, “without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers.”
Paul does not pray for those in Rome because they are his favorite bunch of Christians. Praying for his brothers and sisters is a pattern in Paul’s life. In 1 Corinthians 1:4 Paul tells the Church in Corinth, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul tells the Church in Ephesus, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” In Philippians 1:3 Paul tells the Church in Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” In Colossians 1:3-4 Paul tells the Church in Colossae, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.”
Paul prays for God’s people. Do we? Do we pray for each other when we are separated during the week? When you sit down with your family at the dinner table, or when you tuck your children into bed at night, are you praying for your brothers and sisters that sit next to you today? No. Why not? If I were to guess, most times it is because we are too busy praying about ourselves. Praying for our finances, praying for our health, praying for our circumstances, praying for our lives. Now, don’t mishear me. Should we pray for ourselves, absolutely, we should being praying for ourselves all the time, however, we should also be praying for others all the time.
Perhaps the best picture of this is Jesus prayer in John 17. This high priestly prayer shows Jesus praying for himself, specifically that God would be glorified through him. But he also prayed for his disciples and then praying for the entire Church who had yet to be brought into the fold.
However, as I stated, the prayer of Paul was one of gratitude. Paul was thanking God for the people of Rome. Paul was genuinely appreciative for these people, and he was directing his appreciation to the right source, God. For it is God who brings about the obedience of faith by the power of the Gospel. For it is God, who calls us and sets us apart, just as he did the Apostle Paul. Just last week in our Wednesday noon Bible study we unpacked Ephesians 2. And in Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul writes, “Butc God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— “ We were dead and God made us alive.
Paul then goes on to say in verse 8-10 of Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Salvation is a gift from the Lord, it is not something we earn, or do. Both faith and grace are a gift from the Lord. Why did God design salvation this way? So that we have nothing to boast about, and so that God gets all the glory, so that God gets all the praise.
And this is exactly what Paul is going in his prayers for the Romans. He is giving God the glory for their salvation. Every time he prays for his brothers and sisters throughout the world, he is worshiping the Lord. The Roman Christians are God's workmanship. God formed them and made them for his purposes. And this is true for those in Rome and it is true for us today. You are a born again believer because God made you alive. If you are a Christians, you are God's workmanship. Your salvation is not an accident, it purposeful. God has redeemed you and placed you in this particular congregation for a reason. And I, like Paul, thank God for you, and you likewise should thank God for each other, and not just those who are the closest to you, but everyone in this Church.
However, Paul does not only thank God for his fellow believers, but we also see in verse 10 that Paul prays that God would grant him the ability to come to see his spiritual family. Why would Paul need to pray something like this? Why not just go and see them? He has two legs, what is preventing him? Practically speaking, we don't know, but ultimately we know that it is God who is preventing him. In verse 13, Paul says that he has tried but he has been kept from coming. We also know that he prays that God would make it happen. Does God have this ability? Obviously he does. God is all powerful, therefore, if Paul has been prevented from going to the Romans it is because this is God's will. God is the one keeping Paul from seeing the Christians in Rome.
Does God have a right to do this? Absolutely. He is God. But also, let us not forget who is Paul's master. It is Jesus. Paul is a slave to Christ. That means that Jesus calls the shots in Paul's life. If Jesus want's Paul to be kept from going to Rome, then that is Jesus decision to make, and it is Paul's responsibility to accept. Paul must be patient as he waits upon the Lord. Paul must trust that Jesus knows better than him in regards to Paul's agenda. In fact, if Paul would not have been prevented from going to Rome earlier, then we would not have the greatest letter ever written. The book of Romans would not exist. God had bigger things in mind for Paul then a short trip to Rome. And we, of course, can learn something from this. At times, our desire is different than God's and in the midst of that tension we must remember that God is in control and there are reasons for what He is doing that we cannot always see. But we do know that God's will and God's timing are always perfect.
However, this did not change Paul's heart. As he says in verse 11, Paul longs to see the Christians in Rome. His heart aches to be with them. I think it is so crucial to see that contrast of who Paul was and who Paul is in Christ. Prior to Paul's conversion, Paul wanted Christians dead. After Paul's conversion, Paul longed to be with Christians. Why such a change of heart towards believers? That is just it, Paul's heart was changed. The great Physician, Jesus Christ did a heart transplant on Paul, and took out his heart of stone and gave him a heart for the Lord and for his new spiritual family. And this love for his family caused him to want to be with them, not just in spirit, but also physically.
I can't help but think of Jesus in Luke 13:34 when he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! “ the NIV actually says “I have longed to gather.” Paul longs to be with his family, as Christ has longed to be with his family. Why? Because the Spirit of Christ now lives inside of Paul. And once again, if it is true for Paul it is true for us.
We should long to be with each other, not just in spirit, but physically. We should have an internal desire to see each other on Sunday and Wednesday's and any other day throughout the week. We should feel off, if we aren't with our family at least once a week, if not more. This is one of the hypocrisies of a lot of so called Christians who do not go to Church, and really don't seem to care that they don't go. They like to argue that you don't have to go to Church to be a Christian, and that is technically true; however, if you don't want to be with your brothers and sisters in Christ, it is probably a sign that you are not really part of God's family. If you dread coming to Church, then I would encourage you to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are really born again.
However, not only does Paul want to be with the Roman's because he loved them, but also because he wants to impart to them a spiritual gift so as to strengthen them. Paul sees a major part of gathering as a Church involving his use of the spiritual gifts that God has given him. He is not only going to Church to get, he is going to Church to give. When Paul writes to the Philippians Church he describes his life as a drink offering being poured out on the altar of their faith. Paul sees the Church as a place he just empties himself out. He leaves it all on the field. So Paul is not a leach on the Church, he is a source of grace towards the Church, of living water springing from his heart onto his brothers and sisters.
And once again, what is true for Paul is true for us. We like Paul have all received a spiritual gift to be used. 1 Corinthians 12:78 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” To each. This means you and me and everyone who is a believer. No exception. God has poured out his grace upon all of us so that you can pour out that gift upon your brothers and sisters. No Christians should come to Church to only take. You should come to give. Give of your time, give of your love, give of your wisdom, give of you hands and feet, give of your money. Whatever God has given to you, you are to give to others. The Spirit of God is in your heart for the common good of this Church.
And this is a two way street. Paul calls it mutual encouragement. You are to empty yourself out for others and others are to be emptying themselves our for you. And through this mutual encouragement we will grow in our maturity, into Christ likeness. We will be stronger, healthier, more mature, more joy filled, and more Christ centered.
Through these transitional verses we can easily see that we work to do, so let us pray that what God has started he will bring to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.