Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, Iowa on September 25, 2017
As we begin, let us as a Church recite our congregational memory verse for September. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Recite it again). In your bulletins, you will also find a memory verse card. It is our intent to hand these cards out every month and for you to use these cards to help you memorize our verse and to refresh your memory in the months and years to come. So take the cards and put them on your fridge and as a family work on storing up the word of God in your heart.
Open your Bibles to Romans 1:13-17. Today we continue working our way through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome. As always, we have a lot of ground to cover. In fact, as I prepared this week I listened to a sermon by John Piper and he stated that he was going to preach eight sermons on verse 13-17. I will not be preaching eight, but perhaps I should, for there is more than ample material. So with that said, let us read our text, pray, and see what God has for us in his Word this morning.
Last Sunday we examined how the Apostle Paul, the great theologian, loved people. He did not only have the mind of God, but he had the heart of God, for that is what it means to be a Christian, to know God and to love. As we saw last week, Paul was grateful for his Christian family, and it was his desire to be with them physically, so that he could participate in the mutual encouragement that occurs when Christians worship together. Paul viewed Church as a place that he could empty himself out on the altar of their faith and vice versa. I can say without hesitation, there exists no greater institution than the Church. It is designed, built, and sustained by Jesus Christ and it is good.
Today, we turn our attention to the thesis of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the gospel. If someone were to ask you, what is the book of Romans all about, you should say, without hesitation, the Gospel. And as we look at our text today, we see some very interesting things about how Paul understands and is impacted by the Gospel.
First, let us look at verse 14, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” What does Paul mean when he says he is “under obligation?” The Greek words opheiletēs which means one who owes another, a debtor, bound by some duty. This word opheiletes is used again by Paul in Romans 8:12. I invite you to turn their with me to Romans 8. I am going to read verse 10-17 so that you understand the context of what Paul is saying in regards to being debtors,
What Paul is saying in Romans 8 s that when someone becomes a Christian, his old self dies, and the Spirit of the Living Christ takes up residence inside of you. His presence in you creates in you new affections, new desires, a new purpose and this newness of life manifests itself outwardly. The Spirit produces in you a new way to walk. Born again Christians live differently because they are now led by the Spirit, because we are now sons and daughters of God, we are now fellow heirs with Christ. And if that is so, than this new life comes with an obligation, an obligation to live out a life that is consistent with who we now are in Christ. We are debtors to live according to the Spirit. We are under an obligation to live by the power of Christ.
Perhaps an illustration would help. Imagine that I owned a company and I hired you to transport water to the citizens of Puerto Rico. And not only did I hire you to transport the water to those citizens, but I also equipped you with an air plane, so that you could fly there. It would be ludicrous for you to attempt to carry those goods on your back and walk to Puerto Rico. I would call you up and say that I have given you a plane, therefore use it. For if you didn't use the plan, the people would never receive the desperately needed water. You, as my employee would be obligated to use the means that I have provided to do the job.
So the obligation that Paul is speaking of is a gospel obligation. God has equipped him with the gospel and it is God’s intention for Paul to use the Gospel to convert sinners. It would be ludicrous for Paul to use any other means to convert a sinner other than the gospel. I love how Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
However, notice who Paul indicates his obligation is towards. He does not say that he is obligated to God, which he is, but that he is obligated to “Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Who are these people? This description represents all people. He is obligated to share the gospel with everyone, no matter who they are; whether they are the intellectual atheist or the crude, beer drinking, foul mouthed sailors. Paul owes them the gospel. It is his obligation to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. It is his duty.
As I pondered this, I thought to myself what a powerful way to view evangelism. As Christian, we who have received the Gospel, and are obligated to share that gospel with all people. We are indebted to our co-workers, to our neighbors, to our family, to strangers on the street to share the Gospel with them, no matter their wealth, their race, their nationality, their political party, their gender, or their age. We are indebted to those who malign us, who mock us, who ridicule us, who troll us on Facebook. I want all of us to imagine in our head the person or group of persons in your life who at this moment is causing you the most grief. That is the person who you are obligated to share the gospel with. You must understand that you have the living water of God, and those people are dying of thirst, and therefore as a child of God, you are obligated to offer them a drink of the good news of Jesus Christ.
However, Paul does not see his obligation as a burden upon his back; as an unwanted responsibility that he begrudgingly undertakes. He tells us that he is eager to preach the Gospel. Look at verse 15, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” The Greek word eager is prothymos (pro'-thü-mos), which can also be translated to “ready” or “willing”. Paul recognizes that he owes all people the preaching of the good news and he fully embraces the task. It is his desire to preach the gospel.
Perhaps another Biblical picture of this same type of gospel eagerness is found in Isaiah 6. The prophet Isaiah was given a view of God inside the Temple and God was “high and lifted up” mighty Seraphim crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts the whole earth is full of his glory.” And in that setting God poses the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” To this question, Isaiah cries out “Here I am! Send me.” As Isaiah stood in the presence of our Awesome God, he was eager to be set apart for the task of proclaiming God's Word. Their was no hesitation, due to the awesome authority he was witnesses in his vision.
This eagerness to share the gospel is the expectation of all of the children of God. As we have been given eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we should also be eager to share the Gospel; crying out to God, “Here I am! Send me.” In fact, Paul speaks of Gospel readiness in describing the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:14, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” The question is have you put on these gospel shoes? Are you ready to share the peace of Christ to those who are at war with God? I fear not, many of these gospel shoes are not upon your feet, but instead are packed away in your closet with the price tag of the blood of Jesus still attached.
Far too many of us fall short in being eager to preach the gospel. Very few true Christians disagree that our obligation is to share the gospel, understanding our marching orders is not the problem. Christ could not have been more clear in his great commission. Let us be frank for a moment, our problem is that we don’t want to share the gospel. We are not eager, as Paul and Isaiah were eager. But why?
There are several reasons: 1) you are an immature Christian and you must be taught to obey. Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” 2) you have entangled yourself in civilian pursuits. 2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”, or 3) you are afraid.
I Am Not Ashamed
And I believe this may be what is in the back of Paul’s mind when he writes these words in Romans 1 regarding his eagerness. Why do I say this? Because of verse 16. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The reason Paul is eager is because he is not ashamed. And thus the opposite of that statement is “I am not eager, because I am ashamed.” Or to say it another way, “I do not want to share the gospel, because I don't like to experience the shame that comes with it.
So what shame might be in Paul’s mind as he thinks about coming to Rome to preach the gospel? In 1 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul writes this, “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” How was Paul shamefully treated Philippi? If you turn with me to Acts 16:19 we can read about that shame. In this section we see the city of Philippi's response, or reaction, to Paul's gospel work. Starting in verse 19:
The shame that Paul experienced in Philippi that he references in 2 Thessalonians includes being dragged into the center of town, allegations of violating the laws, had his clothes ripped off, beaten with rods, and then thrown into prison. This is the shame that Paul has experienced.
And as Paul thinks about showing up in Rome, the epicenter of world power. Rome, the place that the Apostle Peter and John refer to as Babylon the great, “a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit.” (Revelation 18:2). He knows what is most likely waiting for him there. In fact, Paul says in Acts 20:23-24, “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” This is the shame that awaits Paul in Rome.
This shame that comes with the preaching of the Gospel, did not originate with the Apostle Paul. It originated with Jesus Christ. The original shame of the gospel is the gospel itself. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The cross is the most shameful event that has ever occurred in this universe. The God of the Universe took on flesh, was rejected by men, mocked, spit on, beaten, and hung on a piece of wood for hours and hours, until he died. There is nothing more humiliating than the Creator of all things being killed by his creation.
But how are we told Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame? He looked past the cross to the joy that was set before him. He looked past the present and into the future when he would be reconciled to his Father after he had accomplished his father will.
We Are Not Ashamed
And this is exactly how Paul deals with the shame the gospel. Look at verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul is not ashamed, despite the shaming, because of what the Gospel is. The Gospel, the news that Christ has come, and has lived a sinless life, and laid down his life and absorbed the wrath of God, so that we could be forgiven of our sins, and reconciled to God. Therefore, it does not matter what happens to Paul in Rome, because the truth of what the Gospel provides far outweighs the cost.
And this power of salvation has two aspects to it. First, the gospel that Paul is proclaiming is life producing. As Paul enters a town he believes that this gospel that he has will awaken the dead, that it will call people out of darkness and into light, that it is the voice of Jesus the Shepherd calling out to his sheep. For Paul this Gospel is like having a cure for cancer in your pocket, therefore, who cares what shame it might bring, you want people to live.
The second aspect to the gospel being the power of God for salvation is that it is true for Paul. This gospel that Paul proclaims, also sustains Paul. Paul believes in the gospel, therefore, it does not matter what Rome will bring. He does not care whether he is mocked, stripped naked, beaten, and thrown in prison, for the Gospel is his salvation. Just as Christ endured the cross for the joy of being reconciled with God, so Paul endured his daily cross because the Gospel promised reconciliation with God. This is what Paul was set apart to do, and the light at the end of the tunnel was God himself. Therefore he eagerly runs.
And it is likewise true for us. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation in that it is the cure for sin and death. The gospel produces life, why are we not eager to share it? It makes no sense that we would hide this gospel from men. We should be on the roof tops shouting it to all who would hear. If you had the cure for cancer it would be the most hateful thing you could do to hide it from the world. This is all the more true when talking about the gospel.
Second, the gospel is our joy filled salvation, meaning, who cares if you lose your job, who cares if you are mocked, who cares if you are beaten, who cares if you are martyred? We have waiting for us an eternal joy that is secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we truly understand the power of the Gospel, than we have nothing to fear. Our motto at Cornerstone Church should be “We Are Not Ashamed of the Gospel!”