Eager to Preach

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 1:14-17

“I’m eager to preach the gospel,” Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “I can’t wait to get to Rome to tell it to you there!” and even after nineteen and a half centuries, the electricity still crackles through his words.

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:14-17, niv

There’s something engaging about people who love their work. Ask most folks about their jobs and you’ll get an answer that is noncommittal at best, and sometimes one that will make you wish you had never raised the subject. But every now and then you come across a refreshing exception, somebody so filled with zest and excitement about what they do that they can’t wait to get to work each day. The man we know as the apostle Paul was like that. His work was to preach the gospel, that is, to announce the good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and to explain how these events have opened the way for people to know God and receive eternal life. It was a job that excited Paul like no other; he would rather be a preacher of the Christian gospel than emperor of Rome. Listen to how he talked about it in a letter to the Christians in Rome. I’m reading from the first chapter of Romans:

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (vv. 14-17, niv).

Paul’s enthusiasm is all the more engaging when we realize that he wrote these words not as a neophyte preacher but after something like twenty years’ service in the gospel ministry. Twenty years of hard travel, of unremitting toil, of danger, anxiety and often abuse – who could have blamed Paul for wanting to slack off a bit, to begin to take it a little easier and look forward to a well-deserved retirement? All those miles traveled by sail or on foot, dozens of cities visited, thousands of sermons preached, never settling in one place for more than a year or two – didn’t it all start to grow tiresome for him? I shouldn’t have wondered if he had written the Romans to say he was beginning to slow down now and he was thinking of finding a little place somewhere on the beach, maybe in Greece, to relax, perhaps devote more time to his writing. But no, Paul is as excited now as he was the first time he ever got up to talk about Jesus Christ. “I’m eager to preach the gospel,” he writes, “I can’t wait to get to Rome to tell it to you there!” and even after nineteen and a half centuries, the electricity still crackles through his words.

MOTIVES FOR MINISTRY

Why was Paul so eager to preach? What was it that continued to make this work so fresh and appealing day after day, decade after decade? Was it the fact that it fed his ego? Did Paul think it was enhancing to his personal power and prestige; did he know that someday people would name cities and cathedrals after him if he kept at it? Hardly. However an apostle would be honored by later generations, he found very little in the way of personal reward, as the world defines it, in his own lifetime. To preach Christ as Paul did was to expose oneself to every sort of indignity and calamity.

“We are fools for Christ’s sake . . . We are weak . . . we are in disgrace . . . we go hungry and thirsty and in rags; we are beaten up; we wander from place to place; we wear ourselves out earning a living with our own hands. People curse us, and we bless; they persecute us, and we submit; they slander us, and we try to be conciliatory . . . we are treated as the scum of the earth. . . . “

1 Corinthians 4:10-13

That was the life of an apostle. Why would anybody put up with all this – and all without pay – just to preach a message? In the opening chapter of the book of Romans, Paul offers three clues to his motivation.

First, Paul was eager to preach the gospel because for him this was a form of worship. He says in verse 9 that he serves God with all his heart by proclaiming the good news about his Son. The key word here is serve. It could also be translated “worship,” as it is in a later passage in Romans where the apostle urges Christians to offer their whole life back to God in gratitude for His mercies as “an act of intelligent worship” (Rom. 12:1, j.b. phillips). For Paul worship was more than just hymns and prayers, sermons and sacraments, rituals and “services.” For him his work was worship. He glorified God by what he did in his job, day in and day out, year after year. In Paul’s case, this job was preaching the gospel, the special work for which he was fitted by his temperament, abilities and training and to which he had been specifically called by God.

I wonder if our own attitude toward work would not be transformed if we viewed our jobs the way Paul viewed his: as service rendered, not just to our employers, or community, or nation, but above all to God. We work to survive, yes, and to provide for our basic needs. We also work because it can bring fulfillment and satisfaction, or because it makes a contribution to society. But the highest motivation for work, the conviction that turns labor into prayer, is to view it as part of our personal worship of the living God, as service offered to Him.

Indebted to the World

The second clue the apostle offers for his motivation to proclaim the truth about Christ is his sense of obligation to those who had not yet heard or understood the gospel. “I am obligated,” he wrote, “both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel. . . .” Paul’s feeling of personal indebtedness drove him to spend his life as he did. I saw a car once driving along the road with a little sign fixed to it that read: “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” That’s certainly true for many. Work is primarily a means to pay off debts, to meet financial obligations, to cover the cost of all the purchases – needed or wanted. If we only had enough money, we probably wouldn’t work at all, preferring instead to indulge the age-old human dream of a life of luxurious leisure.

But Paul’s debt was different. He felt an obligation, not to his financial creditors, but to everyone, to every person in the whole world! The ancient Greeks divided the human race into two groups: themselves, and everybody else, whom they rather contemptuously referred to as “barbarians,” a word that suggested the way foreign languages sounded to cultured Greek ears. When the ancient Jews looked at the world, they also saw two categories of people: “the wise” – meaning those who possessed the Law of God, that is to say, the Jews – and “the foolish,” that is to say, everybody else. Paul takes up both sets of terms and uses them to express his sense of obligation to all people, both Greek and non-Greek, both Jew and Gentile. Behind this expression of universal indebtedness lies a deeper obligation to God. Paul is not saying that he literally owes something to the people of the world. He is talking neither about financial debt nor the guilt (and often the pride) that leads us to try to repay favors done for us by others. Paul’s is a debt of gratitude and of love. It isn’t directed first of all towards other people but towards God. The obligation he felt was caused by his continuing wonder at what God had done for him in Jesus Christ. Though Paul had once been the primary persecutor of Christians, “the chief of sinners” as he described himself, the Lord Jesus appeared to him, overcoming his unbelief, pardoning his guilt, humbling his arrogance, commissioning him to preach, and sending him to the world. Paul never got over his amazement at that. For the rest of his life he was filled with grateful awe whenever he thought that the Son of God, “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Since Paul couldn’t really do anything to repay Jesus for that love, he felt he must work out his obligation by telling the world what Christ had done so that others could also meet Him and receive the same wonderful gift.

THE POWER OF GOD

This brings us to the third clue to Paul’s excitement about his ministry. The apostle was eager to preach the gospel because he knew what it could do to people and for people. “I’m not ashamed of the gospel,” he begins verse 16. But the truth is, Christians are often tempted to be exactly that. We’re ashamed of the gospel because the gospel can be embarrassing. It offends many people. It arouses ridicule, opposition, even hatred. A little polite religion, especially if it’s kept private and quiet, is one thing. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s even quite respectable. There are whole university departments devoted to the study of religion. Few people are really ashamed of religion. But the gospel – that’s another thing altogether. At the center of the gospel is the cross, the symbol of Jesus’ death, which proclaims that human sin has cut us off from God and human religion isn’t enough to bring us back again. Only the death of God’s very Son can save us. The circumference of the gospel is faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in Him, and are joined to Him through a living faith, and are living for Him as Lord will share in the good things the gospel promises. And this is a message that many people do not like.

But Paul was not ashamed of it because he knew, he had seen, he had himself experienced, that “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is power. It’s not about the power of God; it is the power of God. However, it isn’t the power of God for anything and everything, like a genie that will do whatever we tell it to whenever we rub the magic lamp. The gospel isn’t magic. It’s not a secret spell that will give us whatever we want if only we repeat the proper words. It’s just as well it isn’t any of those things, for then it wouldn’t be true, it would only be make-believe. No, the gospel is God’s power for one specific end: it is God’s power for salvation. Many of us would doubtless wish to have God’s power available whenever we like: to make us well, or wealthy, to guarantee our earthly success or happiness, to protect our families or produce wonders; but God doesn’t offer that. These things, desirable as they might be, are not automatically given by God to anybody, nor does the gospel promise any of them. Its power is the power to save. Our deepest need as human beings, whether we’re aware of it or not, is to be saved from our sin and its consequences. Sin has robbed us of the knowledge of the true God, the living God of the universe. Even worse, it has made us offensive to Him, for in sinning we turn our backs upon Him, reject His love and rebel against His goodness. As things stand, human beings are dead to God, and if they continue that way, they will perish eternally. Nothing is more important, nothing more urgently needed, than to gain the righteousness that will make us acceptable to God and give us eternal life with Him. But how can we get it? We can’t produce it ourselves. Then where does the perfect righteousness that we need come from? It comes from the gospel, where according to Romans, “a righteousness from God is revealed, that is by faith from first to last.”

This is how it works: in order to receive the righteousness from God and be saved, you must simply believe the message of the gospel that Jesus died for your sins. That’s all you have to do. Think of it – the power of the Almighty God comes to you just from hearing and accepting the truth that Christ died for you. You don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to do good works or perform religious rituals or offer many prayers; in fact, none of those things can make you righteous. Jesus has already done that by dying in your place. All you have to do is believe in Him! But you do have to believe. If you ignore Him, or pay no attention, or scoff at Him, or think you can just decide to believe another time, you’ll be lost.

This is the gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes in Jesus. How do you stand in relation to it? Are you ignorant of it? If so, keep listening. Are you ashamed of it? Oh, don’t be! Think how great your shame will be if in the day of the Lord’s return you have rejected Him. Do you believe in it? Then cherish it and treasure it, and proclaim it. Be “eager to preach” it always and everywhere.