Romans 15:13 ended Paul’s systematic instruction to the Roman church. From this point forward, Paul will share many personal instructions and comments that are quite revealing about himself and others. In verses 14 through 21, Paul now explains his heart’s motivation concerning his ministry. If you want a true insight into the heart of Paul, and how he thought about other believers, studying these verses to the end of this epistle will be quite a revelation. In this final section he gives many personal comments, more than any other epistle in the New Testament.
Paul now writes, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient--in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation, but as it is written: ‘To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand’” (Rom. 15:14-21). So, what did Paul think about the Roman church, and what were his desires for his ministry?
1. Paul was confident in the Roman’s ability to minister to each other. Vs. 14-15
Paul begins by declaring his confidence in these Roman believers because of their moral and spiritual maturity. He tells them that he is assured that they are full of goodness. This word goodness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit discussed by the apostle in Galatians 5:22-23. This goodness that Paul refers to describes a moral and spiritual goodness. You remember in the gospel of Matthew that he told the story of a man who came to Jesus and said, “‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God’” (Matt. 19:16-17). Now Jesus was either telling this man that He wasn’t good, or He was acknowledging that the man had recognized that He was God. I believe it was the latter. This man recognized that there was something divine about Jesus, and that there was a moral and spiritual goodness about His character.
Do you realize that you also can experience a part of this moral goodness in your life? The fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life is what produces moral goodness. This is what Paul recognized in these Roman believers. I hope that you can recognize this moral goodness in other believers too. One day, Jesus declared that He would say something very special to each of us who have followed Him. He will say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’” (Matt. 25:21). Note that Jesus will address you as a good and faithful servant. He will see His moral goodness formed in each of us, because we have been transformed into His image. This is the work He is doing in each and every one of us right now!
This is also what Luke wrote concerning Barnabas in Acts 11:24, when he called him, “A good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” This is the same Greek word for goodness in our text. Also note that Luke couples being a good man and being full of the Holy Spirit and faith. This is exactly how God does this work of transformation in each of us. We must come to Him in faith and ask for the infilling of the Holy Spirit, and goodness will be the result. You can’t will yourself to be good. Doing good deeds doesn’t make you good. Goodness is a fruit of faith and a work of the Holy Spirit inside your heart!
Second, Paul also declared that the Romans were not only full of goodness, but they were filled with knowledge. This Greek word for knowledge is a word that describes an experiential knowledge. The Bible teaches that there is an intuitive knowledge, and also an experiential knowledge. Both are important to possess. An intuitive knowledge refers to a cognitive perceptiveness and discernment (Rom. 2:2). Experiential knowledge is more of a practical life-experience kind of knowledge concerning the truth. In other words, the Romans knew in a very practical way what the truth was, because they had experienced God’s work in their lives. Pray for both of these kinds of knowledge.
Third, Paul declared that this goodness and knowledge enabled the Romans to possess the ability, “to admonish one another.” The word admonish means to encourage, warn, or instruct. These verses reveal that this was a healthy church, because they were encouraging and ministering to one another. I know why Paul believed and had this confidence in the Roman church, because I have seen this same thing occur in the church that I pastored for 42 years. What did I see in them? People would come up to me and tell me that they were depressed and discouraged, and that another person from our church had come up and asked if they could pray for them. Or, a person had a physical need and others came to help them with that need. When I heard of people helping and encouraging others like this I was elated. I would simply say to myself, “Hallelujah, God is at work in His church!”
Do you realize that ministry doesn’t just take place from the pulpit in your church? Ministry doesn’t just come from the elders of your church; ministry also occurs when you as members of the body of Christ minister one to another. This is called the priesthood of believers where each follower of Christ chooses to hear God’s voice and do what He tells them to do (1 Peter 2:9). This is what a healthy church does. However, for the church to be healthy it also requires everyone to be open and honest with one another. People can’t lie to one another and say, “Everything is fine,” when it is not. You must be willing to say, “I need prayer, I need help, I need encouragement today.” This is what allows real ministry to take place. It also allows people around you to find their gifts and talents. This is why Peter also said further on in his epistle, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11). Peter makes it clear in this passage that each one of you as a believer possesses at least one spiritual gift, and that you should use your spiritual gift to minister to others. Notice why you should use your gift. Peter says, “As good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” If God by His grace has given you a spiritual gift, then you should be using it for His glory and not hiding it under a basket (Matt. 5:14-16).
In addition, Peter tells you how to minister to others. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” This means that whatever the Word of God declares, this is what you should speak, no more and no less. If the Bible doesn’t speak on that subject, you should be silent and tell people, “The Bible doesn’t teach anything specific on that particular topic.” Peter continues, “If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies.” In other words, if God gives you a gift and the wisdom to know what the Scripture teaches, then He will also supply the ability to minister to others. All you need to do is ask for His supply of grace which will give you the ability to do His will! Why would He give you this ability? “So that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” God will be glorified as you minister one to another within these parameters. If the only ministry in the church comes from the pulpit, that’s a weak church. So, be ministering one to another, by encouraging, serving, or warning others, whatever the need might be. This is why Paul also taught the Ephesian church to be, “Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ--from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). Therefore, speak the truth of God’s Word to one another in love. Every one of you has a part to play so that the church can grow up into Christ. Christians are to build up one another in love!
2. It was grace that motivated Paul to speak with boldness. Vs. 15
The second insight into Paul’s heart for ministry is revealed in verse 15. He writes, “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God.” As you read Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts and his epistles, it is clear that he possessed great boldness! Where did He get this boldness? He revealed that his source of boldness was, “because of the grace given” to him by God. He declared that his boldness and success in ministry were the result of God’s grace. This truth is such a key issue that you should not miss it. When you realize your own weaknesses and insufficiency to serve the Lord or preach the gospel, all you need to do is cry out for God’s grace. Don’t try to pull yourself up by your bootstraps or try to work up the motivation within yourself. What you are missing is the all-sufficient grace of God! Knowing God’s grace and favor toward you are the most powerful motivators you could ever experience. Can you remember those times when you have cried out to God in prayer and sensed His enabling in your life? I hope so! He wants to grant you His favor, but you have to ask for it (James 4:2). Many in the church today are running on their own strength and abilities instead of His mighty power. May this not be your testimony.
Paul revealed this same truth in Galatians 1:15-16 when he said, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” Where did Paul get his overwhelming motivation and desire to preach the gospel among the Gentiles? It was grace! Grace saved him, and grace empowered and motivated him to preach. Think of it! If you are a follower of Christ today and have a personal relationship with Him, it is all because God has bestowed His grace on you by calling you to Himself. In addition, if God has used you to do anything in God’s Kingdom, it is also by His grace. Notice how Paul exalts the grace of God in 1 Corinthians 15:10 when he said, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Is that not a powerful statement? He declares that it is not some ability in him, but it was the grace of God that motivated him to labor so abundantly. Paul didn’t take any credit for his ministry. He did not boast in himself, but his boasting was in the grace of God. Do you boast in the grace of God, or do you love to take credit for your accomplishments? If you boast in God’s grace it glorifies the Lord and pleases Him greatly!
Now it is important not to miss the application of these truths. If God gave Paul boldness by His grace, you have access to this same grace. Do you need more boldness to share your faith with others? If you do, then all you need to do is ask for His grace to come upon you, and you will begin to experience the courage of a lion in your soul. I have had this experience many times when I was standing next to a person, and I had the distinct impression that I should share Christ with them. Like most people, I experience the sense of fear wondering how they will respond. I can’t count how many times I have prayed and asked God to fill me with His grace and the power of His Holy Spirit. Instantly I have experienced God’s power coming upon me, boldness fills my heart and I begin to share the gospel. The next time this happens to you, pray and see what happens. You will experience the same thing that Paul did in his life. God wants us to become bold as lions. Solomon said, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). However, many times when I encourage people to be bold as a lion they say, “But, I thought Christians are to be like sheep, not lions?” My response is, “We are to be like sheep with our Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But with the people of this world, we need the boldness of God to speak His Word.” When the disciples were first being persecuted Luke records, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). I believe Christians are way too fearful and sheepish today, and in great need of boldness when they have an opportunity to share their faith. How about you? Do you sense this boldness when you pray and are filled with the Holy Spirit? All you have to do is ask the Lord!
3. Spreading the Word of God was Paul’s motivation. Vs. 16, 20
In verses 16 and 20, Paul revealed what he calls his “aim.” The word aim in verse 20 means to have a passionate ambition or goal. What motivated Paul was the message of the gospel that he knew could completely change a person’s life. His singular motive was to proclaim the gospel to people who had never heard of Jesus. Paul stated so clearly that he wanted to, “be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God.” Notice that he didn’t want to preach man’s wisdom, psychology, or philosophy, but just the truth of the good news of the gospel. Is this your motivation? I hope that it is! Why? Because when you give people an answer from the Word of God, you are giving them the very best that you can offer them. Paul said to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Paul came preaching Christ and what He had done for all mankind, not the philosophies of men. This is why throughout this epistle to the Romans, Paul quoted 67 different passages out of the Old Testament to prove that the ideas he was teaching were completely biblical and were not his own ideas. This is also a simple test for you to do when you pick up a Christian book to read. Open the book and look at how many times the Word of God is quoted to prove the author’s points. When I don’t find any Scripture within the pages of someone’s book, then I don’t waste my time reading it. This is the very issue that motivated me to write the books, “Married and How To Stay That Way,” “Winning Your Personal Battles,” and “Counseling Couples in Crisis.” I went into the Christian bookstore one day in my home town, and went through every marriage book on the shelf. Every one of these books were written by a therapist or psychologist, and there was little Scripture within their pages. This was my motivation to write biblically oriented books, so I could help people in their struggles with their marriages.
My personal belief is that nothing but the Word of God should ever come forth from any pulpit in any Christian church today. Sadly, that is not the case. When I have attended churches while on vacation, and I hear one verse of Scripture read with no explanation or application for the people, and then the rest of the service is given over to programs and surface talk, I know that this church is in big trouble. Even worse is when a Christian church fails to open the Bible at all, and the service is given over to psychology, human opinions, or emotionalism. This church has failed it’s calling! Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:2-4 what he desired Timothy to do in the pulpit. He said, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” If you want to tell someone what you think is important just before you die, you make that clear in your last words to them. This is exactly what Paul does in these verses. Why? Because Paul believed that this is what should be happening in every Christian church. If you don’t hear your pastor say, “Please open your Bibles with me this morning,” then you need to get out of that church and find one that does teach the Word of God in truth!
4. Paul’s motivation was to boast in what God had done. Vs. 17-18
In verses 17 and 18 Paul says, “Therefore I have reason to glory [in who?] in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient.” One of the basic motivating desires in Paul’s life was very simple; he wanted to glory in and boast of what God had done. Luke records this actually happening when Paul and Barnabas came home from their first missionary journey. He explained in Acts 14:27, “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Note that they reported “all that God had done,” not what they had done. Paul and Barnabas didn’t declare that they had opened the door to the Gentiles, but that “He” had done this marvelous work.
I believe that this motivation to exalt what God has done is the result of realizing who you are. Paul declared what he knew about himself when he said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:18). When you come to this same conclusion and realize that in your fleshly nature nothing good dwells, you have had a divine revelation. Then when you see goodness come forth from your life, you know that it’s the result of what God has done in you and through you. At this moment you will exalt what He has done. The praise will go to the One Who deserves it. I know I have quoted these verses before, but they bear repeating. Paul explained who and what was at work within him as he labored for Christ. He wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10). Paul could never forget what he had done to the church prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. This truth assured him that God’s grace had completely transformed him, and that God was working through him to reach the lost.
My prayer is that you also will remember who you were and what you did before you believed in Jesus. I also hope that you see the real corruption of your heart even now as a believer. When you see the selfish and self-centered motivations of your heart, that so often motivate you even today, that you to will cry out for God’s grace to enable you to live and act above your own carnal nature and love others as He intends. Doing so will move you to boast in what God has done all the more. If you will only receive it, God’s grace can change anything in you!
5. Paul wanted to proclaim the Gospel with signs and wonders. Vs. 18-19
Paul writes in verses 18 and 19, “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient--in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Notice first that Paul did not want to take credit for works with which he had not accomplished. He didn’t want to exaggerate the success of his ministry by boasting about what others had done and attributing those works to himself. Paul believed that the gospel message was not just a bunch of words, but that God worked in mighty power to save souls (1 Cor. 4:20). These were his central beliefs.
The question naturally arises in a person’s heart when Paul makes these statements about signs and wonders, as to where these mighty signs and wonders come from. Notice that Paul answers the question in the next phrase. He believed that signs and wonders came by the power of the Spirit of God. I believe that this statement is so essential for believers to understand, because the gospel is not a collection of nice platitudes or clichés; the gospel is the power of God that miraculously changes a person’s life and transforms their behavior forever. This is why Paul declared to the Corinthian church that was caught up in the philosophies of men, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). He also wrote to them, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5). In other words, when you put your faith in the promises of the gospel, the power of God will begin to move in a mighty way in your life.
But, some say, “I’ve never seen anything miraculous or signs and wonders.” When people say this to me, this is how I respond: If you have become a Christian, that in itself is the biggest miracle that anyone can experience. To take someone who is dead in sin, blinded by the devil, and in love with the sin of this world, and make them alive, give them eyes to see, and a love for righteousness, that is an awesome miraculous work! Then, think about all the other miraculous things God does in your life. He miraculously answers prayers that you pray. It isn’t always the answer you want, but it is an answer. He can answer yes, no, or not now. That God would even respond at all to sinful men and women is an incredible miracle. He will also miraculously speak to your heart when you open your Bible to read it. He can miraculously give you a divine warning to protect you from harm. He gives you discernment about things that are not right so He can protect you. He also gives you divine appointments with people who are unbelievers so you can share Christ with them, or with believers so you can encourage them. Haven’t you also seen prodigal children miraculously return, addicts set free from their addictions, and the broken-hearted healed by God? And yes, God can physically heal people who are sick. These are just a few of the miraculous things that should be signs of God’s wonderous working in your life and the lives of those around you. Many times, we simply don’t recognize these supernatural signs of His power. But this is what Paul saw in His ministry, and of which he wanted to see more. Go and read the book of Acts and look at the awesome working of God’s power in their lives. If you believe and call on His name, God will work on your behalf. Never forget the simple statement that Jesus made to two blind men who came to Him seeking healing. This is a critical truth; don’t miss it. Matthew records, “When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, ‘Son of David, have mercy on us!’ And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you’” (Matt. 9:27-29). The point Jesus is making is clear, “According to your faith let it be to you.” As you draw near to Him seeking mercy, simply put your faith in Him, and you will see His miraculous working in your life as well. You can’t deserve or earn this; you must trust Him to work as He has promised.
Last, before we leave these verses, notice that at the end of verse 19, Paul writes, “So that from Jerusalem and roundabout to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Do you know how far it is from Jerusalem to Illyricum and back again? Illyricum is on the Dalmatian coast of what today is Croatia, horizontally on the same latitude as Rome, Italy. Paul traveled from Jerusalem north all the way through Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia to Croatia, and also traveled on to Rome at the end of his life. In Paul’s three missionary journeys, he traveled a minimum of 7,500 miles. Paul traveled an additional 1,100 miles when he went from Jerusalem to Rome as a prisoner. Remember, he walked and traveled by boat to reach the majority of the Roman world. To help you realize how far 7,500 miles is, it would be like walking from the middle of California to the tip of South America. That is a long way! Would you take the next 30 years of your life to walk and preach the gospel to people all the way to the tip of South America? Think about it, this was one committed and motivated man!
6. Paul’s aim was to go where no other man had gone to reach the lost. Vs. 20-21
Another of Paul’s basic desires is expressed in verse 20 where he declared, “So I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation.” Where did Paul get this idea to reach out where Christ had never been preached? God must have spoken to him from the Old Testament. In verse 21 Paul quotes Isaiah 52:15 which is a Messianic prophecy of Jesus reaching those who had never heard of God’s grace. In this quotation it is written, “To whom He was not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand.” Has God ever spoken to you from Scripture to motivate you to perform some act of service to others? This is exactly what God did with Paul. This verse motivated Paul to become the apostle, and travel to Gentile regions around the Roman world. He was probably just reading the Scriptures one day, and this verse popped out at him. At that moment, God must have spoken to him and said, “This is what I want you to do. This will be your calling and service to Me. I want you to proclaim My Word where no one has heard it.” When God does this with anyone, it will motivate and give that person a passion and desire to obey.
What does God want you to do? How does He want you to serve Him? That’s the question I want to leave you with from this study. I want to encourage you to pray and think about it. Ask the Lord to speak to you and show you His plan for your life. I believe that whatever He tells you will motivate you to minister to and serve others. One of the most important things He will ask you to do is to preach the gospel to the lost. How can I be sure that He would ask you to do this? He has already commanded you to preach in His Word. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is a clear command. There is someone right now who has no one around them to proclaim the good news of the gospel. You are someone whom God wants to use to reach them. There are people in the United States of America who have never had anyone ever personally proclaim the gospel to them. I am absolutely sure of this fact, because I have met these people. You might be the person whom they work with, they live next door to, or they might be in your family, or be your friend. You have some connection with them which will allow you the opportunity to talk with them. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 15:4, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” This is what Jesus did for you. He also said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Are you seeking to save the lost? Think of it this way. If your neighbor knocked on your front door today and said, “My little boy is lost out in the wilderness, I need people who will come and help me search for him.” Wouldn’t you immediately stop what you were doing and go to help search? Of course you would! But you must realize that you have already been asked to be on Christ’s search team for the lost in this world. Will you go and seek them out? May God touch your heart with the ability to hear His voice!