Yesterday we ended the post with Paul’s conclusion of the opening of his letter with his standard blessing. He used it often, but it is meaningful. “To all who are in Rome [and everywhere], beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7) [emphasis added]. He pronounced upon his readers grace and peace from both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s always in that order because we must receive the unmerited favor of grace from our Lord before we can have His peace.
Paul was mightily used to spread Christianity throughout the known world. Wherever he went, the gospel was preached, souls were saved, and churches were planted. His passion for proclaiming Christ remains virtually unmatched over these many centuries. When Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, Paul trembled as he asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6) From his writings and the accounts in the book of Acts, it seems that Paul never stopped asking Jesus that question; as Paul lived the remainder of his life in submission to Christ Jesus.
To understand what drove the apostle Paul in ministry, we need a glimpse into the apostle’s heart. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established—that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.” (Rom 1:8-13)
Here, he opens wide his heart and allows the believers in Rome to see his sincere desire to serve them. With humility of soul, Paul is unusually transparent as he gives them a personal insight into his own spiritual life. He wants them to know how strong is his desire to minister to their needs. He writes as a true servant of the Lord, who is giving himself selflessly to them for their spiritual good.
As Paul writes this epistle, what’s amazing is that he had never met these believers, unlike other epistles to churches that Paul had planted. This letter, nevertheless, reveals how large-hearted the apostle was for the church, wherever it was found. His heart is especially drawn to this flock in Rome. The more Paul loved God, the more his heart was enlarged for these fellow believers. This same deepening love for others should be found in us, we should be ever advancing to serve the needs of those around us with a contagious faith that reaches out and spreads to others with the saving message of Jesus Christ.
First, we see that Paul lives with a spiritual focus; he sees opportunities to serve others through a spiritual lens. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” (Rom 1:8) Paul’s attention was drawn to these believers because their faith was spreading to countless other people throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Paul gives thanks to God for the influence of their faith as an acknowledgment that He is the One who is behind this rapid expansion of the gospel.
Second, we next see the commitment of Paul to serving God sacrificially. He writes, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son” (v9a). The word “serve” (latreuo) is translated in other places in the New Testament as ‘worship.’ For Paul, his service was a chief means of Paul’s worship for the Lord. His preaching of the gospel centered in God’s Son magnified His name. Notice Paul said his service for God, was “with my spirit”; that is, he served God from the depth of his inner person with passion and zeal .
Thirdly, Paul served the Lord with selfless prayers. He addressed the believers in Rome, stating “that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (v 9b). He was constantly praying for the churches and believers wherever the gospel went. This indicates that his focus was not on himself, but was on others. He was doing more than merely thinking about them, but was actively approaching the throne of God on their behalf. Paul understood the necessity of praying for those whom he desired to serve, that God would open doors through which he could pass in order to minister to others.
Fourth, another aspect of a godly servant is his humility of being submissive to God: “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you” (v10). Paul yielded his desire to the sovereign will of God in his ministry, clearly recognizing the overruling providence of God. Though Paul desired to travel to Rome, he knew that he could not do so unless the will of God allowed it, knowing only Jesus Christ holds the keys that can either unlock the doors before him or close them shut.
Fifth, we note that Paul expressed a strong desire to strengthen them with a spiritual blessing. He writes, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established” (v11). His intention was both to win converts and to strengthen and edify those who were already believers. He longed that the believers’s “conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27). Paul realized that a sacred stewardship had been entrusted to him in the gospel. He must invest in others what has been deposited into him by the Lord.
Sixth, we see Paul’s humility in his service of the Lord. He writes, “that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (v12). Paul wanted to encourage them, but he also desired that they encourage him. We need each other’s encouragement, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Prov 27:17) Too often, pastors appear aloof from those whom they serve; above the fray, unapproachable, unable to receive feedback from others. But Paul says that he desires to come to Rome and have mutual ministry with each other, inviting them into his life. Paul doesn’t have an elitist mentality; he has a humble, selfless heart, making him easy to talk to. So must we be the same.
Seventh, we see in Paul that a godly servant should be sensitive to the spiritual needs of others. Paul writes, “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now),” (v13a). He wrote this because the believers in Rome were expecting him to come and minister to them, but he has been providentially prevented from being there yet. As we minister the gospel, we need to be mindful that we may have injured others; we must regard others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3).
The last quality of a godly servant that we see in Paul is being a soul winner. Paul concludes, “that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles” (v 13b). This “fruit” refers to people that he desires to bring to faith in Christ. Their conversions will be the result of the seed of the Word being sown into their lives. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16).
Paul wasn’t content to proclaim the gospel without regard for the outcome; he was determined that people be converted to Christ followers through his preaching the gospel. He never tossed out the truth with a cavalier attitude, indifferent to its reception or rejection. He longed to see fruit, a harvest of souls, from his labor. He yearned that the lost be brought into the kingdom. The passion to win people to Christ was a strong drive in Paul’s spirit, a fire in his bones. This drive was pouring out of him. This was down deep in his spirit. Reaching lost souls with the gospel was what Paul was about.
- Profile of a Servant