Rightly Responding To An Uncertain Future
Topic: Sunday Sermons Passage: Romans 15:14–33, 1 Thessalonians 5:17–24
Think for a moment on the things that Paul had in common with us today - as well as the things that he did not have, that we enjoy.
1. First - the amazing simplicity of life in that day – compared to our lives today, and due to their lack of electronic technology. No phones…no internet - no videos - no Tik-Tok. Paul had none of the “time-saving” devices that we think we can’t live without! e.g. Have you ever been to a friend’s home - and to keep distractions away, they collected all cell phones in a basket? That little exercise shows wonderfully just how addicted to our screens we really are!
2. Secondly - modes of travel. Paul is writing to a church far removed from where he was physically – he had a huge desire to go there, but no quick way to get there.
3. But even still - there were a couple of things that we share in common with Paul - #1 - he could WRITE. They did have pen and paper. And by God’s grace, his writing was not an empty post that no one read. His letters had a greater impact than that of any New York Times best seller.
4. And - he had a great heart for God - that too we can share, though it is doubtful that we will reach his level of zeal. Still - it is a godly aim.
As always, as we study Scripture, we need to remember both the original audience, the grammar used, and the historical context – all important in rightly interpreting passages of Scripture. But the marvelous God-breathed Words have their spill-over effect into our lives today. My prayer is that this passage, and this message on it, will inspire us all to see that Paul was a Kingdom of God man…and we are called to that same kingdom. The wonderful principles that drove Paul can drive us onward. May that be the case!
This block of scripture is not one of the most dynamic, action filled sections. There are no dynamic healings, or amazing encounters with Pharisees… But…this passage is inspired, and we have much to learn and draw from it.
In a real way - this passage is like a day in the life of Paul. But it is a day of mixed feelings, containing both hope - and a bit of apprehension,
14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God
16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.
18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience--by word and deed,
19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God--so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;
20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation,
21 but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."
22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you.
23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you,
24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.
25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints.
26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.
27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.
29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,
31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,
32 so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
I would like to unpack this passage and use these 3 phrases as a guideline…We will look at:
1. Paul’s CONFIDENCE and CALLING
2. Paul’s COMMITMENT
3. Paul’s CRY
1. Paul’s CONFIDENCE and CALLING
Paul was clearly confident in the Roman church’s relationship with God, the grace of God that was evident in their lives. Said with our vernacular, he wasn’t worried about this church. They were able to teach. They were representing the Gospel.
But just like all churches…they weren’t perfect…and they could be forgetful. So Paul is putting some things out there to them as a reminder - a reminder of God’s grace, a reminder of the reason for his – theirs, and our confidence.
Paul was always on a mission. And usually, it takes quite a bit of energy and initiative to be on such a mission. Much of Paul’s encounters were like what has been called “an uphill battle.”
Often, we shy away from such climbs. We all tend to enjoy the downslopes so much more! It is all too easy to coast. Many of you would have heard me use one of my favorite life expressions. I learned it years ago, and have thought of it many times during those invaluable lessons that have come into my life. That phrase is this - “You never coast uphill. “The only time you ever coast is when you’re going downhill.”
So in this passage, Paul expresses his heart to see the Romans, and expresses hope to have their help on his planned mission trip to Spain, and important region within the Roman Empire.
Paul goes over some phrases that HE has expressed before…outlining the fact that he is a sort of priest - a priest to the GENTILES, one that presents sacrifices.
But his role as a priest was not to be the same as that of a Jewish priest - his offering to God are the lives and souls of Gentile converts. And his goal is that this offering to God - those who have professed the mighty name of Jesus - would be the real deal - and have the seal of sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
Paul makes it clear to the church in Rome - as a way of reminder - that his work was made possible by the inspiration of God - he was called out, and given grace to be a light to the Gentiles – and obviously that included these folks in Rome, and beyond them…in Spain.
And - in a godly way, he was proud of the outcome - he seems to be exuding a sense that his work in that area (the region from which he was writing) was nearly complete.
He thought the time was just about there…for this long-awaited trip to Rome.
2. Paul’s COMMITMENT
If there was ever a committed servant to God, it had to be this man. Paul was driven by a GREAT ambition. John Piper refers to this passage and the strong motive driving Paul by using the term “holy ambition.”
Consider the words from Paul - he is illustrating to this church that is so dear to his heart. He had DESPERATELY wanted to travel to Rome…but this ambition had kept him back. As in the account of the Macedonian call, Paul’s intentions and timetables were not always was he would have thought, or even desired. But, he did all he could do to trust in and obey the Lord as He guided Paul’s steps.
His many travels had taken him on a zig-zag course throughout the middle east and Europe, from Jerusalem to Illyricum - (Ill-LEER-uh-come) - modern day Albania….and all of this - on foot, horseback/carriage, or by ship. 35 years of hard, exhausting travel. Facing dangers, the elements, and the sheer hard work of apostolic ministry. For me - looking at this map, and all the places that Paul ministered…it is completely overwhelming.
But Paul was not like most people - he had experienced the Gospel in a life changing way - he had been given a calling by Jesus that forever changed the way he viewed life. His ambition was not to merely enjoy a comfy life…his ambition was to see the Gospel spread to people - people who had not heard the name of Jesus.
What would give Paul such drive - what motivated him to such a task? It was his love for Christ, and for the task at hand of preaching the Gospel to those who hadn’t yet heard this, the greatest story ever told.
In this passage, before beginning the trek to Rome, Paul is making what was to be a fateful stop in Jerusalem. In some of his other travels, believers had passed the plate, and had given Paul money - to disperse to those believers in Jerusalem who were in poverty, some were in extreme poverty.
The details leading up to this trip to Jerusalem are found in Acts 21. What was to happen to Paul in that stop was anything but a brief diversion. This was to be a life changing trip into Jerusalem.
3. Paul’s CRY
It wasn’t as if Paul thought he was universally loved – he knew better! Much of his ministry had put him into situations that pitted him against unbelievers, evil men with evil intentions, so Paul was not without a sense of danger.
And - it wasn’t as if he hadn’t been warned either…his brothers and traveling companions were well aware that Paul’s unapologetic ministry to Gentiles put him at odds with some in Jewish leadership.
On top of that - there were several prophetic words that are described in the Acts account - warnings to Paul, describing Paul’s being bound.
Without a doubt, Paul was facing an UNCERTAIN FUTURE. Just like many times before…he faced a choice. What would he do?
He did the same thing WE need to do. He went to prayer.
He called on his friends…his fellow believers. He asked them…he implored them to pray - to pray in the mighty name of Jesus - to even STRIVE together in prayer. Prayer gives us COURAGE….A WILLINGNESS to do what God has put into our heart. And prayer fires up within us the STRENGTH to take those steps toward our destiny.
This kind of prayer is what James talks about…fervent, effectual prayer. Not the kind of sing-song prayers that are often depicted in movies. But deep, life-dependent prayers.
If you knew you were facing a surgery, one that contained great risks, or serious ramifications…you would pray, and pray hard. You might well FAST and pray. But pray, and pray hard…you certainly would.
I remember standing in the side of this room several months back, as many in our community group – led by Bob and Bonnie Anderson – prayed for Chris Yates. We were all praying hard – but I was particularly moved by Andy Jessee’s prayer that morning for Chris. Andy personally identified with some of what Chris was facing – and he was deeply moved in prayer, and wept openly as he prayed. I am talking about THAT kind of prayer.
I believe that kind of compassion and depth of cry in the heart is completely spot on when we are facing difficult times. I truly believe that Paul had that mindset as he set his face toward Rome – but first – he had to stop in Jerusalem.
Again, Paul is aware of the resistance facing him – he references the dangers present while in the midst of this prayer - using the phrase “That I might be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea.”
One writer commented on that line from Paul saying “Paul knew that there were people that were out for him. He just didn’t know how much they hated him.”
And - true to Paul’s character - even though he knew that grave danger existed, in his call for prayer, he went beyond his own needs, and even his own safety…and once again focused on the needs of others.
Paul went forward without fear – doing just what David did, after he picked up the five smooth stones, and RAN toward Goliath. He “ran to the battle.
Paul marched forward with faith – and marched right into Jerusalem, the battle awaiting him. His only prayer: Pray that my ministry in Jerusalem would bless the saints…
Finally, he closes with a dreamy desire…that his trip to Rome would be a time of refreshing and joy.
From the accounts in Acts, we learn that it was apparent that the contribution that Paul had taken to Jerusalem was indeed delivered.
And, Paul DID end up going to Rome. Just not like he had ever imagined. He would go to Rome as a prisoner, and experience a trip like no other - in captivity.
And amazingly, being imprisoned did NOT take away his joy. Paul penned his letters – what we now refer to as books – to the Colossians, to Philemon, to the Ephesians and the Philippians – while in prison in Rome. Talk about using your time wisely.
1. Like Paul - we face an uncertain future. Both individually and as a nation…there are forces pressing against us that could very well change the freedoms that you and I have enjoyed our entire lives. How do we respond in our heart? Paul’s evangelistic heart – may that be in our lives.
2. Paul was settled in his hope and faith in Christ. In a time of uncertainty, and even in the face of danger, his hope in Christ was unchanged. May we do likewise.
3. Paul resorted to PRAYER - and that is God’s will in every situation.
Needs for such prayer:
• OUR OWN COUNTRY – economically, and culturally, for we are floundering with issues that we have faced before.
• OUR CHURCH – that we will be faithful to be living letters before our neighbors and workmates, our friends and family.
• PRAYERS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION – that our children and grandchildren will reject the strong tide of culture, and hang on to the values rooted in the Cross of Christ.
1 Thess. 5
17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.