THE GOSPEL FOR GOD’S PEOPLE
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
— Romans 1:8-17, ESV
Paul was special. Just ask his mother. Or, maybe not, for she and the rest of the family probably disowned him when he left Pharisaical Judaism to become an Evangelical Christian. But certainly he is special to us, all Christians and all churches, especially we who hail from non-Jewish origins.
Paul is the God-called and self-proclaimed Apostle to the Gentiles (ref. Acts 9:15, 13:47, 22:21; Romans 11:13; 1 Timothy 2:7). He was saved by God on the Damascus Road, then sent by God out of Israel, into the far reaches of the Roman Empire, to preach the gospel and plant churches. We are his legacy, and we should listen intently to what Paul has to say in all of his Epistles, especially this first and longest one to the Romans.
What he writes in this text is a revelation of his role as an Apostle. The job description of an Apostle (and an Elder or Pastor) is two-fold: praying and preaching (ref. Acts 6:4). Who Paul prayed for are the people of God, the members of Christ’s church. What Paul preached is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is for God’s people. It is what brings us to God. It motivates us to pray for and present the gospel to others. And every time we gather for worship, the gospel should be preached, to grant salvation, to give assurance, and to motivate us to follow Christ in every other aspect of our lives.
Praying for God’s People
Paul began everything with prayer. Here is yet another Pauline example to follow. I pray when I wake up in the morning, before every meal, for church members before working on church sermons, before any serious decision or task ahead of me. I hope you approach everything with prayer, too.
After his introductory remarks to the Romans, and before his lectures in systematic theology, Paul writes out a prayer for the church. “I thank my God” is an expression of prayer, one we should offer for every perfect gift and every imperfect person the Lord puts in our lives. “Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers,” is an absolute prayer for the people of God. So what does the Apostle pray for in this Epistle, and how are we to pray for ourselves and our church?
Paul prays for their faithfulness. It is not necessarily a witness when you share your faith in Jesus Christ; not unless, that is, you can show people your faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is always proven by faithfulness. Faith without faithfulness, otherwise known as hypocrisy, is the most damaging witness of all to the Christian faith. Apparently the Roman Christians were not hypocrites. Paul thanked God for their profession of faith and practice of faithfulness, and Paul prayed it would stay that way. Amen for all of us!
Paul prays for their fellowship. Paul loved “going to church,” as all true Christians should. None he planted or visited was perfect, but there was never a doubt about where you would find Paul on the Lord’s Day, unless providential or penally hindered (he was a jailbird for Jesus, which is how this part of his prayer was eventually answered). Paul delighted in being with fellow sinners turned saints, to hear the Scriptures, sing the hymns, and otherwise commemorate the Christian faith, the word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul loved Christian fellowship and worship, and prayed for more and more of it. Amen for all of us!
Paul prays for their growth, spiritual and numerical, in the right order. A church must get stronger spiritually before it can grow numerically (I think the modern church has it backwards, selling their souls to draw a crowd, hoping some souls in the crowd will come to Jesus). So Paul prays their visit together will stir up their “spiritual gift[s] to strengthen you,” to be “mutually encouraged by each other’s [spiritually growing] faith.” Then he prays for “some harvest” of lost and unchurched people to be added to the church in Rome. Spiritual and numerical growth is what every church needs. Amen for all of us!
Paul declares his “obligation” to pray for God’s people, then presents the very thing that can make his prayer come true.
Preaching to God’s People
“I am eager,” Paul said.
Paul was not eager to sell books in Rome so people could find fifteen ways to have healthier and wealthier lives on earth. Paul was not eager to engage in a marketing strategy and hire professional musicians, some of them completely pagan, to lead a launch and cast a vision for a new way to do church in Rome. Paul was not even eager to set up a voter registration booth and fight for social justice in Rome.
Paul was eager “to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Praying and preaching are God’s principle means of grace. In other words, it is how God delivers His grace to people in order to give and grow their faith and faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not just any praying, but Christian praying, praying in Jesus’ name. It is not just any preaching, but gospel preaching, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is why I do not waste our time preaching sermons about American on the 4th of July, or mothers on Mother’s Day, or fathers on Father’s Day, or endangered species on Save the Planet Day. Do I care about our country and want you to be good citizens? Do I want good marriages and families and parenting in our church? Do I want us to be good stewards of the planet God has given us dominion over? Of course I do! But the best way to do it is, like Paul, preach the gospel!
The gospel is the good news of God’s love for sinners, and of His plan to save some by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Every sermon should be a gospel sermon, for every sermon should come from the word of God, the Bible, and every section of the Bible is about the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament promises Jesus, the Gospels present Jesus, the Epistles explain Jesus, and the Revelation tells us of Jesus’ return.
The gospel is something for which we should be “not ashamed.” I am ashamed of Christians sometimes, but I am not ashamed of Christ. I am ashamed of what people do in the name of God sometimes, but I am not ashamed of God. I ashamed of how people misuse the gospel and preach false gospels sometimes, but I am not ashamed of the gospel!
The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” but only “to everyone who believes,” which God in His economy made available “to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentiles).” For a true believer, the gospel brings you to justification by faith, it motivates you to sanctification by the Spirit, it guarantees your glorification one day into the very presence of God in Heaven. The gospel is for God’s people!
This is because the gospel alone can give you “the righteousness of God,” without which you cannot be right with God, belong to God, and live with God forever. This righteousness comes by grace through faith in the double imputation of Christ on the cross, whereby our sin is put on Him, and His righteousness is given to us.
The Gospel for God’s People
The gospel, rightly preached and truly accepted, is the dunamis, the miraculous power, which brings you to “faith,” “from faith,” “for faith,” and empowers you to “live by faith.” That’s a lot of faith. That’s why we need a lot of gospel.
Faith is a gift from God and “from faith,” this God-given faith, we are saved. We are saved “for faith,” to live a life of faithfulness to God, and to one another. Remember, faith without faithfulness, to God, to God’s church, to the family and friends God has given you, is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is no way to live. Rather, “live by faith.”
Live “from faith for faith,” by taking your faith and sharing it with others. No priority in our Christian lives should be higher than sharing Christ with those God has placed in our lives, and seeing our faith become their faith. We should live and give for faith to come to the whole world, in every continent, country, tribe, and tongue.
God’s people should live to make more people God’s people. Faith is central to this. The gospel is central to faith. The gospel is for God’s people.
When God’s people get together, we need to hear the gospel. This is why we do not offer pep talks, but rather preach the gospel. This is why we do not let the music overshadow the message, but rather compliment the gospel. This is why we observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and baptize as often as we can, so people can taste and see the gospel as well. When we gather, we will get the gospel, because the gospel is for God’s people!