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The Reasons for Romans - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 15:14-33

  • 2021-02-07 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


We have begun our study of the final section of Paul's letter to the Romans. We have now, for several years, been working our way through Paul's letter and that's been a rich study. But we've come to the section that I've simply entitled "Conclusion," because here Paul ties up the loose ends and concludes a number of very practical matters. It begins in chapter 15, verse 14, runs through the end of the book, the end of chapter 16. As I noted for you last time, this section of the letter begins with Paul's, "Reasons for Writing." Why do we have this letter to the Romans?

Well, beginning in the middle of chapter 15 and running down through the end of the chapter, Paul explains two overarching reasons that he wrote Romans, the very reasons that the church of Jesus Christ has had this brilliant letter for 2000 years, the reason you hold it in your lap this morning.

Last week, we considered, "The Timeless Spiritual Purpose," the timeless spiritual purpose. And that simply was to remind all believers, then and now, of the gospel that we have believed. This is the message of verses 14 to 16; let me read it again for you, this is what we studied last time, but just put it back in your mind as we're going to catch the flow from here. So, you follow along, Romans 15:14:

And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Now, we learned in these verses that it was written to Christians. He introduces himself again to the Roman believers, and he says. "You are my brethren, you're my fellow Christians, and you are spiritually mature." So, this book was not written primarily to evangelize unbelievers, it was written for us who are believers in Jesus Christ. Why? Well, verse 15, gets to the core, spiritual purpose and that is, he says, "I have written as a reminder, as a reminder." This is a pattern of the New Testament epistles as I showed you last time. It's not enough to know something once; we need to constantly have our minds and our souls bathed with that truth again. Whether it's the basic truths of the gospel that he deals with throughout this letter, or whether it's the fullness of that gospel as he goes down and mines the depths of the gospel truth, or whether it's the practical application of that gospel to life as we saw in chapters 12 through 15.

It also was written under God's authority. He says at the end of verse 15, "It was because of the grace of God that was given to me to be an apostle," that's why I've written. So, this book is written ultimately from our Lord Himself through His apostle and it comes with His authority as a reminder to all of us. That's the timeless, spiritual purpose.

Now, this morning we come to the second reason that Paul wrote this letter, and I've called it, "The Timely Ministry Purpose." So, there was, "The Timeless Spiritual Purpose," a reminder to all Christians everywhere in all times of the gospel, but there was also a, "Timely Ministry "Purpose," and that was to prepare the Roman believers for the visit that he had planned to make to them. Now, you can tell immediately that this reason and this paragraph that we're going to study together is historical. It's about Paul and his life and ministry in the first century. But I hope you won't check out because of that because, in fact, this section is still extremely helpful for us. Buried in these verses, as we will see, these verses about Paul's ministry in the first century, there are several crucial lessons about our own service to Christ, your service to Christ in His church.

Let me give you a roadmap for the rest of the chapter. In verses 17 to 33, Paul focuses, first of all, on his "Former Ministry Accomplishments," verses 17 to 19. Secondly, on his "Fixed Mission Strategy," verses 20 to 21. Thirdly, on his "Future Ministry Plans," verses 22 to 29. And then his "Fervent Prayer Request," verses 30 to 33. If you missed that, don't worry, obviously we'll come back to it.

So, before Paul explains to us his mission strategy, before he explains his future plans, he first reflects here on "His Former Ministry Accomplishments," his former ministry accomplishments. And that ministry, as he will explain to us, took him from Jerusalem, in the Middle East, all the way up into Eastern Europe. Let's read it together, Romans 15, verses 17 to 19:

Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Now, in these verses, Paul really is reviewing for us the past twenty-five years of his ministry. And as he does so, he provides for us today five crucial lessons about serving Christ, five crucial lessons about serving Christ, whether you're an apostle, serving the entire church as was true of Paul, or whether you're just a normal Christian like you and me, serving in a local church. Here are the lessons about serving Christ that we need and we see the model in the ministry of the Apostle Paul as he looks at twenty-five years of ministry and summarizes it, we learn so much. Let's look at it together.

The first lesson that we see here about ministering for Christ is that Christ is the sole reason for our accomplishments, Christ is the sole reason for our accomplishments. Verse 17, "Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God." Now, Paul here is playing off of what he had just said in verses 14 to 16, and he calls it boasting. Not because it's boasting in some sinful way, the way we normally use that word, but rather because some might think it is. So, he explains and he says, "Listen, since as I have just explained to you in verses 15 and 16, that God is the one who by His grace assigned me this central role in ministering the gospel to the Gentiles, since it was His doing, its legitimate for me to 'boast,' just as I did in the previous verse." In addition, notice he says my boasting is (And this is key.) in Christ Jesus. What does he mean? He means I'm not boasting about myself; I'm boasting about Christ.

Paul repeatedly condemns boasting in one's own achievements, and he always insists that he and all believers boast if they're going to boast, only in the Lord and what He has done. And so, Paul says here, "I'm boasting about my ministry because I didn't accomplish it, Christ did." And by the way, he's also not boasting about his personal life or his accomplishments, he's not posting his latest achievements on his social media page. No! He says, "I'm boasting about things pertaining to God, the things that matter to God, the gospel of God, the preaching and success of the gospel."

He goes on in verse 18, "For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me." Paul is explaining in verse 18, what he means by, "I'm boasting in Christ Jesus." He uses an interesting word. He actually uses the same word translated 'boldly' back in verse 15. So, if we could translate it in English this way, "I will not be so bold to speak of anything except (And underline this in your mind if not in your Bibles.) what Christ has accomplished through me."

Now, Paul is making here an extraordinary point. Paul, the Apostle Paul, is saying that he had not personally accomplished a single, spiritual result in his entire ministry. He's saying, "I never accomplished anything, not one thing. Christ accomplished everything! Christ accomplished all that has been accomplished (But notice how he says it.); Christ did it through me!" Paul's ministry was not accomplished by him, but through him. Christ was the doer; Paul was merely the channel. Christ was the actor; He was the surgeon; Paul was merely an instrument in His Redeemer's hands. So, Paul would only boast, only glory, only revel in what Christ has done.

Beloved, this is a great lesson for us. This is the mindset we need to have about our own ministry in the church, whatever role you serve, whatever place you have, whatever outcomes have been produced; you need to foster and I need to foster a humble spirit that recognizes that I never build a church, you never build a church; Christ alone builds His church. But Christ graciously chooses to use flawed human instruments to accomplish that work. Paul says, "Christ accomplished it, but He accomplished it through me."

And then, we need to note that all real, spiritual, eternal results are ultimately the results of Christ's work, not ours. I want you to think about your gifting for a moment, the gifts with which you serve this body of Christ. You know, Peter breaks all of the spiritual gifts down into two categories: he says there are those who have teaching gifts, all the way from the person who teaches individually, who exhorts on a one-to-one basis, all the way up to those who teach in children's classes, in home fellowships, and in other contexts, in youth ministry, in college ministry, and so forth; all the way up to those who teach in larger venues, those who serve as elders of our church, all teaching gifts. Paul is saying here that any spiritual results accomplished through your teaching gift, it's Christ.

I mean, think about that; I can sit in my office all week, as I do, and not all week, but thirty hours a week, I can sit in my office, preparing to teach on the Lord's day, and I can do all the work, and I can look at all of my Greek texts, and all of the grammars, and I can do all the preparation I do, and I can put together a message and try to fine-tune it, and I can get up and try to deliver it with all the passion my soul can muster, but I can't affect a single spiritual change to a single heart. It's worthless unless Christ chooses to accomplish something eternal. This morning, if any of you are helped and encouraged by my message, it won't be me; it will be the work of Jesus Christ, and that's true of every single teacher in this church.

What about the gift of service? Many of you have the ability and capacity to serve others in remarkable ways, to come alongside and care for people, to prepare meals, to care for children, there's a long, long list. If you have the gift of service, I want you to understand this; it's no different for you. Oh, you can fix a meal and you can care for children, but unless Christ uses that service for the spiritual good of those you serve, there will be nothing; it won't accomplish anything. He's the one who does it; Christ produces all true spiritual results from the use of our teaching gifts, and the use of our serving gifts. You need to understand that Christ is the sole reason for our accomplishments. Anything God has accomplished through you, Christ has accomplished through you.

There's a second lesson here as we look at Paul's example of ministry in the first century, a timeless lesson for us and that is Christ sets the spiritual goal for our efforts; Christ sets the spiritual goal for our efforts. What did Christ accomplish through Paul's ministry? Look at verse 18, "…resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles."

Now, that same expression occurs in a bit fuller form at the beginning of Romans and the end of Romans. Romans, chapter 1, verse 5, Paul says, "(My ministry to) the Gentiles… (is) to bring about the obedience of faith." You go to the end of the book, Romans 16, verse 26, in his final benediction, he says, this is the point of my ministry, "(To accomplish the) obedience of faith." In all three places, Paul is making exactly the same point; the only correct response to Jesus Christ can be described as obedience or the obedience of faith. What is that? What's the obedience of faith?

Well, there are two expressions of the obedience of faith. The first expression is obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought about that, obedience to the gospel? You see, we often think of the gospel in a one-dimensional way, but do you understand the gospel is in essence three different things? The gospel is an announcement to be understood, a declaration that God makes of how He has sent His only Son into the world to accomplish reconciliation with Him, so that you and I can know our Creator, can have our sins forgiven, can escape the destiny we have earned and deserved; it's an announcement to be understood.

But the gospel is also an invitation to be accepted. I mean, how often do you read Jesus saying, "Come to Me." He says, "I'm the bread of life, come and eat of Me, I am the water of life, drink deeply of Me." And, again and again, the gospel is offered as an invitation; the Bible ends with that, right? "Let everyone who thirsts come, come and drink of the water of life freely." The gospel is an announcement to be understood, but it's also an invitation to be accepted.

Most people stop there, but the gospel is also a command to be obeyed. Have you ever thought about that? The gospel is a command to be obeyed; the gospel contains, within it, commands that all who hear it are to (What?) "repent and believe, repent and believe." I mean Jesus, the first recorded sermon of His we have in the gospel of Mark, says this, Mark, chapter 1, verses 14 and 15, "…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled (It's here!), and the kingdom of God is at hand.'" You want to belong to my spiritual kingdom? I'm offering it, that's what He's saying. And then He says, "Repent and believe in the gospel." He says the gospel is a command, "Repent, turn from your sin, and put your faith in Jesus Christ."

If you're this morning and you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, you need to understand that God has made an announcement to you about the gospel. He has extended an invitation to you to "Come;" it's a real invitation, "Come," Jesus says, "Come and you'll find rest for your souls in Me, Come and you'll find forgiveness, you'll find pardon, you'll find grace, and forgiveness, and help, and strength, and adoption, an eternal future." But the gospel is also a command to you. God says, "I've accomplished redemption through My Son, 'Repent, turn from your rebellion against Me and believe in My Son.'" And you need to understand that as you sit here this morning, if you refuse to do that, you are merely adding to your guilt that you will one day face at the judgment because it's a command to be obeyed. Christ's goal for our ministry efforts, just like Paul's, is that many would hear, from our ministry, the gospel and obey.

But there's a second expression of obedience, not merely obedience to the gospel of Christ, but secondly, obedience to the Word of Christ. You see, Christ wanted Paul's ministry to result in the obedience of the Gentiles that included the initial act of saving faith where they repented and believed, but Christ also wanted all of those who truly believed in Him, to then to live in obedience to His Word. Christ's goal for Paul's ministry was the obedience of those he ministered to, obedience to the gospel command to repent and believe, followed by a lifelong pattern of obedience.

I mean, Jesus Himself was often incredulous by those who said, "Yup, I trust in you," but they never obeyed Him. I mean, think of what Jesus said in Luke, chapter 6, verse 46. He said, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' (Master, Master) and (don't) do what I say?" He said, "That doesn't make any sense." In Matthew 28, you remember in the great commission, we're told to "go to all the nations and to make disciples." There's that initial obedience of faith where people believe in the gospel; they repent and believe; and then it says, "And then you're to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then you're to teach them (Notice what He doesn't say.) teach them all that I've taught." What does He say? "Teach them to observe (to obey) all that I've taught," that's the desire of Jesus Christ.

Now, by what means did Christ accomplish "the obedience of the Gentiles through Paul?" Look at verse 18, "…resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed." That last phrase summarizes Paul's entire apostolic ministry; it was speaking and doing. By word, of course, describes the message Paul preached; by deed, describes the miracles that accompanied and verified his preaching. That's clear because, if you look down at verse 19, it's clear that by 'deeds,' he meant miracles. Notice verse 19, "…in the power of signs and wonders."

But here's the thing I want you to get, his words and his miracles had the same purpose. What was that? The obedience of the Gentiles because that was the spiritual goal that Christ had set for Paul. It's no different for us. In the same way, Christ's goal for our ministry, for your ministry, whatever it might be in the church, His goal for that ministry is not self-focused, its Christ focused. Your ministry in this church exists to bring people to obey Jesus Christ, to obey Him in the initial act of saving faith and repenting and believing in Him as Savior and Lord, and to obey Him in all that He's taught in His Word. To obey the commands of His gospel, to repent and believe, and to obey the commands of the Word of God--that's your mission. That's your goal. It's the same for you as it was for the Apostle Paul.

Thirdly, a third lesson about ministry we learn from Paul is that Christ provides the spiritual gifts for our assignment; Christ provides the spiritual gifts for our assignment. Christ supernaturally empowered Paul to fulfill the role that He had assigned him. Look at verse 19, "…in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit." Here, Paul defines what he means by 'deeds' that Christ had used to accomplish his purpose. "Deeds"' is the summary in verse 18, "…in the power of signs and wonders," is the detail in verse 19. Paul says that God's divine power demonstrated itself through him "in signs and wonders.

Notice those two words, 'signs' and 'wonders.' Both of those words describe the same miracles, the same miraculous events; but 'signs' refers to their purpose, the fact that they point to something; 'wonders' describes their affects, people see them and respond in wonder, in amazement. Now, these two words, 'signs' and 'wonders,' occur together in the Septuagint in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, twenty-nine times. Fifteen of those times they referred to the miracles surrounding the Exodus from Egypt.

You come to the New Testament, you find these two words 'signs' and 'wonders' together a lot as well. For example, in Acts, chapter 2, verse 22, these two words refer to Jesus's miracles, Jesus works signs and wonders. In Acts, these two words referred to the miracles the apostles performed, Acts 2:43, Acts 4:30, Acts 5:12, including the miracles the Apostle Paul worked. He performed signs and wonders according to Acts 14:3 and Acts 15:12. Paul's point here is that Christ gifted and equipped the apostles, including him, to perform miracles. Why? Why did God give them, why did Christ give them the power to work miracles? What was their purpose?

If you've been in our church anytime at all, you've heard this overview, but let me just remind you that when you examine the biblical record, it's clear that there were three main time periods when there were, listen very carefully-don't misunderstand me, three main time periods when there were miracle-working men. That is, people who were given the power and capacity to work miracles, three main time periods. First of all, the time of Moses and Joshua, a period that covered about sixty-five years. Secondly, the ministry of Elijah and Elisha; again, a period that covered about sixty-five years. The third major period was Christ and His apostles, a period of about seventy years.

Now, throughout biblical history, God occasionally intervened directly, and He performed a miracle without using a person at all. So, I'm not saying that God doesn't occasionally do that, of course He does. I'm talking only about those times when God gave men the power to work miracles. There were essentially three of them. In thousands of years of human history, there were only about 200 years, collectively, in which God empowered men to work miracles. But, even then, miracles didn't happen every day. If you lived in the age of Elijah and Elisha, it's not like one was popping up on the front page of newspaper every day. No, they were still rare even in those time periods. Why was that?

Listen carefully, because the primary purpose of miracles has always been to confirm the credentials of a divinely appointed messenger, to establish the credibility of someone who speaks for God. Not someone like me, who teaches or explains God's Word, but rather to validate someone in whose mouth God has put His very words. It was true with Moses; it was true with the Old Testament prophets, and even with Jesus. The primary purpose of His miracles was to confirm His credentials as the final and ultimate messenger from God.

This is so clear. If I had time, I would take you to a lot of places, let me just show you a couple of examples. Turn to John, chapter 5. John makes a big point of this in His gospel. John, chapter 5, and look at verse 36, our Lord says this:

The testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish-- (He's talking about His miracles.) the very works that I do--testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

He says, "My miracles prove that I am who I claim to be, and that I'm speaking the truth from God."

Go over to chapter 10; John, chapter 10, you see this same message come up again. John 10, verse 24, "The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, 'How long will You keep us in suspense (I love that.)? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.'" I love Jesus's response. "Jesus answered them, 'I told you (I told you.), and you (didn't) believe." Verse 25 goes on to say, "…the works that I do in My Father's name (the miracles I performed), these testify of Me." They prove my credentials; they validate my credibility to speak for God, that I am everything I claim. Go down to verse 37:

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe me; but if I do them, though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand…that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

He says, "Listen, just look at the miracles I do; I'm doing them all over the place; those miracles validate me as the messenger from God and that I am everything I claim to be."

Turn over the end of John's gospel, chapter 20, verse 30:

Therefore many other signs (There's our word, many other attesting miracles.) Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book (So, we don't have all here in the Gospels.); but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the (Messiah), the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

In other words, the miracles confirm that He is who He claimed and that He's speaking the truth.

Jesus's miracles were not primarily about alleviating human suffering, although clearly in the miracles you see the heart of God and the compassion of Jesus Christ. But the main reason the Spirit empowered Jesus to perform miracles was to confirm that He spoke the very words of God. On the day of Pentecost, a day of miracles, Peter explained this very thing in Acts, chapter 2, verse 22, "…Jesus the Nazarene (Listen to this.), was a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst," He says, "Listen, God confirmed who He was by the miracles that He worked."

But Jesus didn't merely perform miracles Himself; He also gave that same power to His apostles, and their miracle served exactly the same purpose. Acts, chapter 14, verse 3 says, "Therefore (Paul) spent a long time there (in Iconium) speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was (The Lord was.) testifying to the word of His grace (The Lord was testifying to the words Paul preached.), granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands."

In Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 3 and 4, the writer of Hebrews says:

(The message of) salvation…was confirmed to us by those who heard (That is the apostles who heard Jesus.), God also testifying with (those words), both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

So, the miraculous gifts that accompanied the apostles were intended to confirm that they were God's genuine instruments of revelation just as God had done with Moses, with the Old Testament prophets, and with our Lord Himself.

Now, as I have noted for you before, since this pattern is consistent throughout the Scripture, it is therefore reasonable to expect that with the death of the apostles, with the end of the Scripture revelation, that the human capacity to work miracles would end as well. That is the testimony even during biblical history and it's also the testimony of church history. If you have any question about that, I know there are a lot of questions, you come from a background where this isn't taught, I did a couple of messages called, "The Biblical Case for Cessationalism;" you can go online and listen to those where I deal with this topic in a lot fuller and more detail.

By the way, let me just say that this issue of why the apostles were able to work miracles and that when biblical revelation ended, that capacity ended as well, this is just one of so many insurmountable problems with something that's still very popular in charismatic circles called the 'New Apostolic Reformation.'

Listen folks, there are no apostles today; they don't meet the biblical qualifications for apostles, and there are several of them; they don't meet those qualifications; so there's no one giving fresh revelation from God, and there's no one whose message is being confirmed by genuine miracles like the biblical miracles.

Now, that brings us back to our passage. Since Paul was an apostle, Christ empowered him to fulfill that role by gifting him to work miracles. Paul said this about himself as well in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 12, where he says, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you…by signs and wonders and miracles." He said those are the signs of a true apostle and you saw them from me. In Romans, chapter 15, verse 19, Paul says, "(Christ gave me) the power to perform signs and wonders, (miracles that verified my message)." And then notice he adds in verse 19, "…in the power of the (Holy) Spirit." Paul means that his entire ministry, the words he preached, and the miracles he performed, were only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Christ through His Spirit, gifted Paul to accomplish the task He had assigned him.

Now, do you see the connection to us, do you see the lesson for us? We're not gifted to be apostles because we're not called to be apostles. Christ hasn't assigned you the role of an apostle, so He hasn't given you that capacity. However, Christ has supernaturally empowered you to fulfill the role that He's assigned you. Christ has given you a package of spiritual giftedness for the role that He's assigned you in this church. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, according to Ephesians 4, according to Romans 12, according to 1 Peter 4, you have been given spiritual gifting. If you doubt that, go back and listen to the series I did on Romans 12, verses 3 through 8, where Paul deals with those spiritual gifts and says, "This is what the gospel is to look like in your life; you're to use your spiritual gifting to serve in Christ's church." Christ has gifted you, He has equipped you to serve in this church just as surely as He equipped Paul for the role that He assigned him. Don't shortchange yourself, Christian. Christ has supernaturally empowered you to do what He's assigned you to do in this church, whether it's a teaching gift, or a serving gift, or some combination of the two.

A fourth lesson we gain from Paul's ministry example here is that Christ determines the precise place for our service; Christ determines the precise place for our service. Verse 19, "…so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." Paul here describes the geographical boundaries of his ministry for the previous twenty-five years. He describes it as beginning in Jerusalem and reaching as far as Illyricum.

Now, Illyricum was the region northwest of Achaea and Macedonia; I've put a map up so you can see it and kind of put in place it in Europe, you can see where it fits. The Romans created this province; it's a region that today includes northern Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. When did Paul make it to Illyricum?

Well, there's a gap in the biblical record between the time he left Ephesus and when he departed for Jerusalem; you can see that gap recorded in Acts, chapter 20, verses 1 and 2. It's very possible and a lot of scholars think, that it was during that time while he was in Macedonia, that he walked west on the major Roman Road, the Ignation Way, from Thessalonica to Illyricum.

Now, the expression 'round about' translates a Greek word that literally means 'a circle or a ring.' I think it's best to understand this reference as picturing the ministry of Paul across the Mediterranean like a great arc, a great semicircle or a half circle, around the Mediterranean. You can see it here on this map that I've put up; this is actually Paul's third missionary journey, but his first and second missionary journeys are really encapsulated within the third. So, you get a total picture of where he traveled when you look at the third missionary journey. And you can see that there is sort of a sweeping arc across the Mediterranean world where Paul ministered. His travels took him from Jerusalem down in Israel, north to Syria and Antioch, and then northwest to Asia Minor, what is today modern Turkey. And then across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia, and then back across the Aegean, through Ephesus, back to Antioch and back to Jerusalem. Between those two boundaries, Jerusalem and Illyricum, Paul made three great missionary journeys, spreading out in various directions from some of the key cities.

So, what's the point? Listen carefully; here's the main point. By the time Paul wrote this letter, it was the mid-50's A.D. Now, the best we can reconstruct it, Paul was probably converted around 32-33 A.D.; so by the time he writes the Romans, he has been a follower of Christ and he's been involved in ministry for about twenty-five years. He wrote the letter to the Romans from Corinth near the end of the third missionary journey, so he's done all of those things. Here in a single verse, really in a single sentence, Paul is outlining twenty-five years of gospel ministry and missionary work. His entire ministry, so far, had concentrated on the same basic territory, Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece, or what we today would call Eastern Europe. Why? Because that was Christ's design. That's where Christ wanted him. You remember, Paul, we're told by the book of Acts, wanted to go into Asia, but somehow the Spirit prevented him and, so he ended up for twenty-five years serving in this relatively small part of the world because Christ had decided that's where Paul would serve.

Again, you see the powerful lesson for us. It's no different for you, believer. Through providence, our Lord Jesus Christ always decides the place where His servants will serve Him. Let me put it very directly to you; if you are in this church, if you have joined with his church and connected here, then you are not in this church by accident; you are not even in this church ultimately by your own choice, although Christ didn't drag you here kicking and screaming. You chose to be here, but ultimately you are here, well maybe your parents did, but ultimately you are here one way or the other because Christ wanted you here. He planned for you to serve Him here. This is the will of Christ for you for now. There may be another church that comes in the future as He repositions you because of work or other reasons. But for now, you're here, and that's His will and purpose to serve Him.

Paul understood this. Look back at chapter 15, and down in verse 32, he says. "…I (want to) come to you (there in Rome) in joy by the will of God." Paul understood, "Look, what happens to me, where I am, I can make my plans, but ultimately it's God's will that lands me where I land," and the same is true for you. I love what he says in 1 Corinthians 12, where he says, "The spirit sovereignly decides the character of your gift." (paraphrased) This is 1 Corinthians 12, verses 4 through 7, he says, "The Spirit sovereignly decides the character of your gifting, but the Lord sovereignly decides the context of your service (Which is the point here.) and the father sovereignly determines the results of your efforts." (paraphrased)

I love the picture in Revelation 1, we're going to get to where Christ is walking among the lampstands representing churches; and in His hands, He holds the ministers of the churches. Look He puts them where He wants them; they're His, and He positions all of us in the same way. So, Christ decides the specific place in which you will serve Him.

Number five, the fifth lesson about the ministry in this text is Christ decides the single measurement of our success; Christ decides the single measurement of our success. Look at verse 19, "…so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." Literally, "I have fulfilled the gospel of Christ." The word 'fulfilled' literally means 'to bring something to completion, to finish something, to accomplish something thoroughly and completely.'

Now, think about that for a minute. How can the Apostle Paul say that he has fulfilled, finished, completed the preaching of the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum? That implies that he has entirely completed the gospel mission in Eastern Europe. How does that claim fit the relatively small number of believers in that area in the first century? How does that claim fit the small number of churches that have been planted?

Well, Paul is not saying that he had completely evangelized every city, town, and person in those regions. Instead, he's saying, "I have preached in strategic cities throughout these regions; I have planted churches; I have completed the task of bringing the gospel to that region and planting strategic churches from which the gospel could continue to spread. As Knox writes:

He could say that he had completed the preaching of the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum only because the statement would've meant for him, that the message had been proclaimed and the gospel planted in each of the nations, north and west across Asia minor, and the Greek peninsula; proclaimed widely enough and planted firmly enough to ensure that the name of Christ would soon be heard throughout its borders.

Or, as John Stott puts it, "His strategy was to evangelize the populace and influential cities and plant churches there and then leave, to others, the radiation of the gospel into the surrounding villages."

But what Paul says, at the end of verse 19, gives us the measure of his ministry success. He had been faithful to complete what Christ had assigned. Listen carefully, Paul's success wasn't based on the number who heard, it wasn't based on the number of converts, it wasn't based on the number or size of the churches he planted; instead it was based solely on his faithfulness to the task that Christ had assigned him--to bring the gospel to those regions.

And again, this is such a great encouragement to all of us. In the same way, Christ's measurement of your ministry in this church isn't determined by size and results. It's never, Christ will never evaluate your ministry based on results. Why? Because you had nothing to do with the results. If anything spiritual happened, it was Christ. Remember point one? Go back to point one. So He's not going to evaluate your success based on your results. He's the one who produces the results; what He's going to evaluate you on is faithfulness. Did you use the gifts He gave you in the place He put you until He moved you somewhere else or called you home? That's the test of ministry successfulness; that's the test of my ministry success.

Listen, I can't produce any, I can't change anybody's soul, I can't bring people to Christ, I can't do anything; Christ has to do it all, and so His evaluation of me someday will not be the number of people in this church. It's going to be, was I faithful? That's the message of 1 Corinthians 4, right? "It's required in stewards that a man be found faithful." That's how Christ is going to evaluate your ministry as well in this church or wherever He has you where you faithfully use the gifts He gave you with all of your heart as unto Him.

Folks, we desperately need to develop Paul's ministry mindset. This is so beautiful. Christ is the sole reason for our accomplishments. Christ sets the spiritual goal of our efforts, the obedience of those who hear, to believe the gospel and to obey Christ's Word. Christ provides the spiritual gifts for our assignment; Christ determines the precise place for our service, and Christ is the one who determines the single measurement of our success which is faithfulness to use the gifts He's given us in the place where He's put us until He moves us or calls us home. May God help us to live like this, to mimic the Apostle Paul's twenty-five years of faithful ministry.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for this wonderful reminder of what ministry looks like. Thank you that you have given us this passage and these instructions. Help us to develop this mindset, help us to think like Paul. Lord Jesus, thank you that you have gifted and equipped your people, that you have put us in the place where you've put us, you've established the goal, obedience to you, and you have accomplished everything that has been accomplished through us.

Lord, we've done nothing of eternal value. If anything has happened that will last beyond the moment, it's because you did it, Lord, and thank you that you will evaluate us, not on the grandness and greatness of our ministries, but on our faithfulness, to simply do what you called us and gifted us to do. Help us to live like this until you come for us, or until you call us home. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.