“Serving the Master”
September 19, 2004
Effective service for Christ is the result recognizing that we are servants.
I. Paul's Master (Romans 1:1-7)
II. Paul's Ministry (Romans 1:8-13)
III. Paul's Message (Romans 1:14-17)
MessageThis morning's message is going to be a little bit different, because we are going to be mixing two things together. First we are going to study the first portion of Romans 1, and then I am going to share with you some of the things that God did in India this summer. So it's going to be partly exposition from the Word, and partly a testimony, but the two are going to be linked by the fact that the content of our scripture passage for this morning is somewhat related to what we did in India. You see Paul talks about his desire to minister to the Romans, and before we went to India, I sort of adopted this passage as a pattern for the way that I would like to minister to the Indian people. When I think about doing ministry, I can't come up with a better description of the way I would like to do it, than what is written here.
Imagine with me for a minute that you are about to introduce yourself to someone for the first time, and you want to make a good impression on them. They say that first impressions are very important. So what would you say to someone if they asked you to tell them about yourself? What's the first thing that comes to mind? You might say, "I'm an engineer, or a businessman, or a mother, or a student" or whatever. How would you describe yourself? Would you use some sort of a formal title to impress them with your accomplishments, skills and experiences? Or would you say something funny to make them laugh? Would you want them to know about your family? What kind of an impression do you want to convey to someone you are meeting for the first time?
In Romans 1, Paul is introducing himself to the church in Rome. At the time when Paul wrote this letter he had never been to Rome, but he was planning to go there, and he wrote this letter for a number of reasons. First of all he wanted to begin developing a relationship with this church. He wanted to get to know them, and he wanted them to get to know him. He also wanted to use the city of Rome as a base of operations for further missionary outreach to Spain. And so he was counting on the Christians in Rome to provide him with support. In addition to these things, he wrote this letter to promote theological unity between Jews and Gentiles in the church. When we understand these things we can see that it was very important for Paul to make a good impression upon them and to introduce himself in such a way that he would have credibility when he spoke.
Let's read Romans chapter 1 verse 1 and see how Paul introduces himself. It says, "Paul, a bond_servant of Jesus Christ, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." The first thing he says about himself is that he is a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. This description may initially seem strange, but in fact it reveals that Paul had a clear understanding of his true identity in Christ. This perspective was the foundation for everything else that Paul did. His entire ministry was an expression of his service to the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now there are actually three things that he says about himself in this verse. The first one is a description of his personal identity, it's a description of who he is. The other two things are descriptions of what he does, or what he has been called and set apart by God to do. He is a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and he functions as an apostle, and as one who is set apart for the gospel of God. The neat thing about verse 1 is that it is like a little outline for the first 17 verses of the book. In verses 1_7 he talks about his relationship to Christ. In verses 8-13, he talks about his mission as an apostle, which included building up and encouraging the churches, and in verses 14-17 he talks about proclaiming the gospel message to the lost world. So, each of the three things in verse 1 gets it's own section of several verses where it is expanded and developed further. Now there are three crucial relationships in verse 1: his relationship to the Master, his relationship to the Ministry that the Master has given him, and his relationship to the Message that the Master has called him to proclaim. So we have Paul's Master, Paul's Ministry, and Paul's Message.
Now besides the fact that it's just a lot of fun to alliterate on outlines, this has practical value for us. The truth of the matter is, that many of us are suffering from an identity crisis when it comes to our faith. As a result of this identity crisis, we fail to understand our mission, and we are afraid to boldly live and preach the message that God has given us.
What do I mean when I say that we suffer from an identity crisis? I mean that we have forgotten that our primary identity as believers in Jesus Christ is that of a servant. Sometimes in our culture we treat Jesus Christ like He is some sort of cosmic self-help counselor, who exists merely for the purpose of blessing us and satisfying our needs. We seem to have forgotten that Christ is not only our Savior, He is our Master as well, and we ought to view ourselves as His servants. If we fail to think of ourselves as servants, we develop a weak, Sunday-only form of Christianity, that has no power at all because it has been relegated to a compartment that we think we can control, rather than becoming the force that drives every thought, every word, every decision that we make in our lives.
We need to remember that we are servants. This is the perspective that Paul had about himself. Now he was an educated man. He could have easily boasted about his credentials but instead, when given the opportunity to introduce himself for the first time, he simply says "I'm a bond-servant of Jesus Christ". When we have this kind of perspective it's going to affect our behavior.
The best way to get this kind of perspective and to change the way we think about ourselves, is to change the way we think about Christ. A proper understanding of His greatness and power will cause us to be humble when we contrast ourselves with Him. It will increase our confidence in carrying out His mission, because we will know that the greatest power in the universe has called us to this mission, and therefore if we trust in Him we cannot fail. It will also increase our confidence in proclaiming His message because it will remind us that the power in this message does not come from us, but from Him. Therefore we can trust Him with the results.
I. Paul's Master - 1:1-7
Indeed when we look at the text, we see that Paul's first concern, his primary focus, the most captivating thing at the very heart and center of Paul's theology, was the person of Jesus Christ. Look at verse 3, he says "concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of Holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord." The first thing that we see is a brief explanation of the nature of Christ. He is the Son of God, and the Son of David. He is both human and divine. This is very important and unfortunately we don't have time to fully explore all the implications of this statement right now. But there is a contrast that you need to see in these verses. It is a "before and after" contrast between the fleshly weakness of Christ prior to the resurrection, and the spiritual power of Christ after the resurrection.
When He came the first time He came in the humility and weakness of humanity. But at the resurrection, Christ was declared, or some translations say, appointed, the Son of God with power. This is not saying that He was appointed the Son of God at the resurrection. He has always been the Son of God. It's saying that He was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power. The emphasis is on the fact that now He is powerful again, in contrast to the physical weakness and frailty that He experienced "according to the flesh". Of course He had some power during His earthly ministry, but there was a surrender that took place when He came the first time. Philippians 2 tells us that He emptied Himself. That is to say, He set aside His prerogatives and willingly chose to do and to say only what the Father told Him. Not only that, but the miraculous powers that He demonstrated were the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit working through Him. So Christ was not just doing His own thing, He was submitting Himself to the will of the Father. He was using only the power of the Holy Spirit in His ministry, rather than His own power.
How does this relate? On both sides of the issue, He is an example for us. Through His submission to the Father, Christ modeled exactly the same attitude of submission that He demands from us. And in His resurrection power, He demands unflinching obedience as our Sovereign Master and Lord. But He is a master who knows what it's like to submit because He's already been down that road Himself. And because that's the kind of God that He is, it is only natural that as His servants, we should demonstrate the same attitude. This is the significance of verse 5, "through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake". The characteristics of Paul's ministry were, and the characteristics of our ministries should be, an expression, a further extension of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. We are supposed to imitate Him by submitting to Him in the same way that He submitted Himself to the Father.
Now Paul is really trying to emphasize the power of Christ. Why? Because this helps us to be secure in the new identity to which we have been called. We can have confidence in our ministry and in our message. We can have confidence in these things because of the fact that the one who has given us this ministry is powerful!
What have we learned so far? We have learned that we need to think of ourselves as servants of Christ. This is the proper "self-image" for believers. And when we have that sense of personal identity, it establishes an unshakeable foundation for the two forms of service to which we are called.
II. Paul's Ministry - 1:8-13
Paul said he was called as an apostle. The apostles were chosen by God to lay the foundation for the Church. They were the first leaders of the church, and they did a lot of different things. But if I were to summarize their mission in one short phrase I would say that one of the primary roles of an apostle was to invest his life in the people of the Church through "prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). That's the mission that Paul had. And that's what he talks about in verses 8-13. He outlines several ways that he invested his own life into the lives of the Romans. Let's read Romans 1:8-13.
First of all he prayed for them. The importance of prayer cannot be overemphasized. If we can't do anything else, we can pray. And if we're not praying for our brothers and sisters in the faith, we are failing them. We are failing to fulfill the mission that God has given us. How did Paul pray for them? With thanksgiving first of all. He thanked God for their faith, which was being proclaimed throughout the whole world. He also prayed unceasingly. This says something about his perspective. His priorities were in the right place. You see he was so concerned for the spiritual welfare of his brothers and sister in the faith, he was so concerned that they be firmly established in their spiritual lives that he could not stop praying for them. It was on his mind all the time. He puts us to shame. When we forget that we're bond-servants of Jesus Christ, the needs of His people become less and less important to us. We need to pray unceasingly for one another but not legalistically. Not only because we know that we ought to, not out of a sense of drudgery and obligation, but out of a sense of urgency and fervency and love that comes from having the proper perspective about our relationship to Christ, and to His people.
Paul also made request that he might come to see them in person. Here we see Paul imitating Christ once again. When God wanted to reveal Himself to us, He did it through incarnation. He sent His Son to be one of us. Paul is demonstrating the same desire by the fact that he wants to personally visit the Church in Rome. People are not machines. A human being is more than just a mind that can be satisfied only on an intellectual level through writing letters. If we want to minister to human beings we need to be where they are. We need to build relationships with them, carry their burdens, and be humble enough to let them carry ours. We need to care for them in physical ways as well as spiritual ways. This is what our Master did for us, this is what Paul wanted to do for the Romans, and this is what we need to do for each other. And, as a side-note, this is why for five years, ever since the first time I went to India, I have wanted to return. It's a blessing to pray for them. It's a blessing to correspond with them over email and through letters (although I haven't been very consistent about that!) But it's a much greater blessing to spend time with them personally. To eat with them, to pray with them, to laugh with them, cry with them. To listen to the testimonies of what God has done in their lives. To encourage those who have been persecuted. To learn and be blessed by their fervency in prayer, and by the tenacity of their faith, which has been tested at such a deep and intense level, in ways that you and I can only imagine. Being with them in person is a way of serving them, and thus, it is a way of serving our mutual Master who was not satisfied only with speaking to us from heaven, but who took on human flesh and became one of us. In the same way that He became like us, so we need imitate Him to minister to them in the same way.
So Paul's personal identity was completely tied to his Master. The result of this was that he was personally secure, knowing his true place. He also wanted to imitate the Master in the way that he conducted his ministry, by making personal investments in the lives of people through prayer and through face to face interaction. This understanding of his identity also affected another area of his ministry, and we barely have time to touch on this right now. But the second result of a secure identity as a servant of Christ is that it affects the way we present the message.
III. Paul's Message - 1:14-17
Have you ever been ashamed to share the gospel with someone? You know, an unbelieving friend will ask a question and you just know that it's a perfect opportunity to speak up for the faith. But you're scared. "What will they think of me?" and so maybe you avoid saying what you know you should say. I've done this countless times. I'm ashamed to say that I've been ashamed. But Paul was not ashamed. Why? What's the difference between him and us? Was he at some unattainable spiritual level that only apostles can reach? No. He just understood who Christ is, and he understood that he was a servant of Christ. If we knew Christ as intimately as we could know Christ, by humbling ourselves as servants before Him, we would not be ashamed either. You see the gospel is the power of God. Look at verse 16. He doesn't say, "I am such a great apostle that I have the power of God." No, the gospel message itself, when it is communicated accurately, is inherently powerful! You don't have to do anything to make it powerful. All you have to do is just let it out of the cage! Let it out of the cage of your own insecurity and fear and pride. Humble yourself, and "let your light so shine!" Jesus said. The implication is that it will shine on it's own as long as we do not do anything to snuff it out. How do we do that? By adopting a servant attitude.
Ultimately there are only two things in this world that are eternal. God's word, and people. These are the two areas in which we see Paul ministering in Romans chapter 1. He was devoted to serving Christ first of all. As a result of that, he was devoted to the ministry that Christ gave him in the church, which was to serve people. And he was committed to unashamedly proclaiming the message of Christ. The ministry is people, his message is the gospel of Jesus Christ. To the degree that we invest ourselves in these two things, our lives will be a success in the eyes of God. To the degree that we fail to invest our lives in these two things, our lives will be nothing more than dismal failures. What's the difference between Christians who succeed in this area and those who fail? I believe that it is the basic attitude of being either a servant or of being selfish.
God gave us the opportunity to minister in India this summer, and we wanted the things in this text to characterize our ministry there. Now I'm not going to put myself on a pedestal and say that I did everything perfectly, that's not what I'm trying to say. But I taught the book of Romans in India, and before the trip, as I was preparing over the summer, this text really stood out to me as a good pattern that I should try to follow. . .