THE PRIESTLY DUTY TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL
Romans 15:14-33, Key Verse 15:16
“to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
Thank God for leading our study of the Romans up to this far. We have come a long way and this is the almost ending part. Through the Romans study, we could lay our spiritual foundation on the gospel truth. We could also hear the practical directions about our Christian life such as “accepting one another” by not fighting over “disputable matters.” In today’s passage, we would like to hear more about Paul’s personal stories. Even with his personal touches, we can learn an essential point, that is, our priestly duty in the NT sense. May God help us to accept our priestly duty so that the gospel may continue to be preached in and through us.
1. Paul’s Personal Sharing (14-22)
Look at verse 14. Paul now begins to open up about himself to the Roman believers. In doing so, he establishes close rapport with them. When one shows his personal side to another, that person feels really close to him. Note Paul’s conviction about them. He is convinced that they are full of goodness, knowledge and competence. It is through this strong conviction about their elite spirituality that he could share such personal stories with them. Remember that Paul has never seen the Roman believers yet. He is writing this letter in Corinth in case he misses going to Rome without seeing them. He has heard about them a lot, though, possibly when his coworkers at Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila, who are originally from Rome, spoked highly of them. Still, it is remarkable that Paul has built and maintained such strong conviction with the Romans remotely. With that conviction, he has even boldly said to them with the phrases like “you have no excuse… (Ro 2:1),”and “I urge you to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice (Ro 12:1).” Paul is not apologetic about his boldness.
There is another reason why Paul could be bold to them. It was because of God’s grace given to him. In Ro 1:5, Paul says he has received both grace and apostleship. In sharing God’s grace that transformed him into a bold yet gracious apostle, Paul perhaps expects that the same grace would work in and through the Roman believers.
So that leads us to verse 16. Here, Paul elaborates God’s grace given to him. Paul says that he has become a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. A minister (leitourgos) means a public servant of a state, like a foreign minister (or in US, Secretary of State). So Paul has dealt with the Gentiles’ affairs as if he were the foreign minister of Christ’s kingdom to the foreign nations. And Paul explains about his duty based on the OT reference.
He calls his duty as priestly because by preaching the gospel to the Gentiles he has made the Gentiles an offering acceptable to God. Back then, in the OT times, Aaron’s sons would slaughter a male animal without defect, sprinkle its blood against the sides of the altar and eventually burn its pieces on the burning altar (Lev 1:5-9). This act of offering sacrifices was so precious that it was called an aroma pleasing to the Lord. And this service was only allowed for Aaron’s descendants. However, Paul has personally accepted this service as his own and acted like an NT priest, making the Gentiles an offering without defect, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. It is possible that Paul has envisioned that God’s earlier promise to His people becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation come true with all believers including the Romans. Apostle Peter has also had the same vision with the believers, calling it a royal priesthood (1Pe 2:9). Surely, what Paul has envisioned for the Roman believers can be applied to us as well.
And Paul says he glories or rejoices proudly in his service to God (17). How fortunate and satisfying it is when one glories in what he does. In US, about 70% of the people are dissatisfied with their jobs. Simply, they cannot glory in what they do. Some say that lack of meaningfulness and praise addiction can cause such dissatisfaction. But Paul has found meaningfulness in accomplishing his mission by what he has said and done. Also, he has been attested as a proven apostle by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. No need for human praise for Paul. We do not have to have signs and wonders to prove ourselves or to glory in what we do. We just need God’s approval and inner strength to confirm it.
Recently, it came to my attention that the number of the years that I have lived and served as a missionary in US has surpassed that of Korea. Nevertheless, I notice that I am dissatisfied, still thinking I did not do my job good enough. And at the Friday meeting, I envied some coworkers who claimed they could glory in what they do. I was not sure if I could say the same. Do I glory in what I do? Then I realized glorying would not depend on me. I just need to see how Christ has worked through me. Wherever I went, and even here in Illinois, I have always felt I have not done enough. That is why I used to call February as Feb-scary because all the difficult and scary tasks await me in this second month of year such as class observation and other duties. But I am not scared any more of February. Rather, I can glory in my service to God regardless of my performance. May God strengthen me to continue to say that I glory in what I do.
Look at verse 19b. Paul says he has also fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. At that time, Illyricum was located at the north of Macedonia, nowadays Yugoslavia and Albania. It is possible that it has marked the western boundary of his preaching while Jerusalem, the eastern one.
In verse 20, we see Paul being careful to avoid places where Christ has been already known. In other words, he wants to extend the gospel by founding new churches at any cost, rather than claiming an easy credit from existing churches. Often Paul has preached the gospel without any charge, supporting himself by hard labor such as tent-making. Self-supporting, self-containing and self-sufficient may be his unique principles in terms of serving his gospel ministry. Perhaps, because of these principles, Paul has not felt free to go to Rome to visit the Roman believers. As of now, he is at Corinth, shepherding the Corinthian believers with all kinds of problems. So Paul cannot simply leave with all the issues hanging.
2. Paul’s Future Plan (23-33)
Look at verses 23, 24. Paul now shares his future plan with the Romans. He says there is no more for him to work in the regions. Perhaps, he has finally dealt with all the issues of the Corinthian church and feels confident that he can now leave. Note that Rome is not the final place to go. Spain is the one. Why Spain? Possibly, Spain has been regarded as the western frontier of the Roman Empire, so Paul has perceived it as the end of the world. Spain’s being his final destination means that Paul’s stay in Rome is going to be limited. Still Paul shows his burning desire to visit the Roman believers for many years (23). In the beginning of his letter, Paul has briefly mentioned about how much he is longing to see them so that he may impart them some spiritual gift to make them strong (Ro 1:11). Surely, Paul is a good shepherd. At the same time, Paul does not hide his hope that the Roman believers participate in the world mission by assisting him on his journey to Spain (24). He is treating them as his precious coworkers.
But look at verses 25-29. Paul reveals his another mission separate from the Spain and Rome visit. Actually, it is very important mission. So Paul explains just how critical this trip to Jerusalem would be. In verse 26, we see that the Gentile churches like the Macedonian and the Achaian churches preparing a contribution for the poor in the mother church in Jerusalem. Paul says that while they are pleased to do it, at the same time, they owe it to them because of the sharing of the Jewish church’s spiritual blessings. Paul’s view is not necessarily the general sentiment of the Jewish believers toward the Gentile believers. In actuality, the Jewish believers are so concerned about the Gentiles not being like the Jews enough that they require the Gentile believers to be circumcised and keep the OT laws such as avoiding unclean foods. Here, Paul could see the beginning point of the potential schism, like the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic in 1054. He wants to amend this foreseeable problem by bringing the contribution of the Gentile churches to the Jewish church. In fact, the mother church definitely needs this help as the Jewish believers are undergoing the severe persecution and their number is decreasing.
Paul hopes that a demonstration of genuine love and a desire for unity might be well received by the mother church. In doing so, Paul also hopes that the Gentile churches learn how to reciprocate by their “material blessings.”
Look at verse 28. The completion of the task at Jerusalem would free Paul to make good on his promise to visit the Roman believers. In verse 29, we see how much Paul looks forward to the time when the full measure of the blessing of Christ might be poured out on them. In Ro 1:12, Paul says that he and the Romans may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Surely, in Ac 28:15, the Roman brothers and sisters traveled a long way to welcome Paul and he was greatly encouraged.
Now verses 30-33 are the urgent prayer request from Paul for the Romans. He asks them to join him in his struggle by praying to God for him. What are two main prayer topics for him? First is that he may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and second is that that the contribution he takes to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there. Through his previous experiences with Jewish opposition, he knows how perilous it would be to go to Jerusalem. Not only with these previous dangerous encounters, but also a prophet is predicting that he may be bound and be handed over to the Gentiles in Jerusalem. There is a real possibility that a harm may reach Paul when he goes to Jerusalem.
Another matter is that his concern for the attitude of the Jerusalem church to the contribution of the Gentile churches. In Ac 15:5, some believers belonging to the Pharisaic party strongly suggested the Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses even at the time of council meeting. Even after the decision of the council that the Gentile believers might be relieved from the burden of the law-abiding, such opinionated Jewish believers might hinder the unity of the universal church by not accepting the offering from the Gentile churches.
So Paul earnestly pray for these two prayer topics to be heard and answered so that he may reach Rome safely and joyfully. Here, we see a humble and prayerful Paul who asks prayer support, even from the Roman believers. And he concludes his prayer request with his wish that the God of peace may be with them.
In conclusion, we have learned how Paul’s opening up himself could build up rapport with the Romans. Paul also shares how God’s grace made him a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, an honorable position with the priestly duty to make the Gentiles an offering acceptable to God. So he glories in his service to God regardless of the situation. And he requests prayer support from the Romans so that he may safely and joyfully go to them with spiritual blessings. May God help us to accept our priestly duty and become ministers of Christ Jesus.