Tim Parker

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I am under obligation

A Talk on Romans 1:14-17 (New years eve service)

Do more exercise, lose some weight, and be more enthusiastic about evangelism…
Yes you’ve guessed it, these are my New Year resolutions. And if you like you can keep track on my progress though out the year.

On the first two of them, I’m not expecting much progress. But with regard to the last one, tonight’s passage has given me much cause for optimism.

Evangelism is as a concept is so simple. It is sharing the Gospel with people. Sharing the Good news of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

Defining it is easy, but putting our heart and soles into it is often much more difficult. We may find it hard to find the motivation. Hard to keep going when our message is met with rejection. Easy to convince ourselves that it isn’t really that important.

Yes to know what evangelism is is easy, but for that understanding to become our practice is much more difficult. But verses 14-17 of our passage are of great help here.
I’d like us to notice these verses 3 attitudes of Paul towards evangelism, then to see what their origin is so that we can copy in our own lives.

Firstly evangelism is Paul’s obligation. We see that in verse 14, Paul says “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish”. Now we will worry in moment about this business of Greeks and non-Greeks, but for now let’s just notice that Paul is under obligation to preach the Gospel.

It is an aspect of evangelism that we probably don’t appreciate enough. Often we think of evangelism as something over and above the call of duty, an optional extra in the Christian life. Something we can choose to engage in or not.

And then if we do decide to become involved in the whole evangelism thing, then it is so easy to begin acting as if we have done some sort of favour for God.

You can imagine the quiet time: Hi God, it’s me, you won’t believe how much I have done for you to day. Well for a start, there was the cross link leafleting, and I even did number 24, you know the one with the yappy dog and the scary looking man with the BO problem. Then I spent an entire hour chatting to that lady from number 46, she is so boring but I did it any way and to top it all I even rustled up to courage to invite my neighbour to beyond belief…

But this attitude to evangelism is completely to alien to Paul’s thinking. Evangelism is not a favour he is doing for God but an obligation.

And notice the surprise in verse 14. Do you see it?...

Paul’s obligation is not to God, but to his fellow human beings. “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish” says Paul.
Dose that strike you as strange? Wouldn’t you have expected Paul to say something like “I am under obligation to God… … … to go and tell the whole world the gospel”.

But he doesn’t and let’s understand why.

The key is in the in word obligated. Paul is under obligation. The word is used in Greek to describe someone who is in debt. In fact, the old King James bible translates this verse just like that, “I am a debtor” says Paul, “to both Greek and non Greek”

But what dosed he mean?

Even for students, there are in fact only two ways of getting into debt. The first is to borrow money from somebody; the second is to be given money for somebody.

For example, suppose I were to borrow a hundred quid from you tonight, now don’t worry I’ve no intension of doing so, but if I were, I would be in your debt until I paid you back.
But on the other hand, suppose I meet a friend of yours and they gave me £100 to give to you, then I would also be in your debt

In the first case, I have got myself into debt by browning. In the second case it is your friend who has put me in debt by giving me something to pass on to you. And it is in this sense that Paul knew he was indebted or under obligation.

Paul hadn’t borrowed anything that he had to repay, but God had given him something that he had to pass on to the world. Paul had received from God the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And by receiving it, Paul had become a debtor, had been put him under obligation to the world.

And in the same way, we too are in debt to the world. If the gospel has come to us and we have received it then we are under obligation to make it known to others, who ever they are.
Notice how Paul describes those he is under obligation to. Paul could have chosen to say “I am obligated to everyone” but instead he speaks of Greeks and non-Greeks, wise and foolish. Paul is wanting to emphasise the universality of his Gospel obligation.

The Greeks were the epitome of culture and refinement. To be Greek, in the sense Paul means it here, didn’t necessary mean you came from Greece but it means to be middle class, of good social standing. On the other hand, to be non-Greek was to be unrefined, uncultured, of lower class.

And Paul is saying that he is obliged to both. He is in debt to the well-spoken businessman just as much as the market stall owner; to the lawyer, just as much as the bath house attendant.
And in the same way Paul is obliged both to the wise and the foolish.

And it is the same for us. We too are indebt to the world. We have an obligation to pass on the gospel irrespective of a person’s social background, educational background, religious background, political background, racial background or any other difference you care to mention.
Evangelism was Paul’s obligation to everyone. And it is the same for us.

Secondly, notice with me Paul’s attitude to his obligation in verse 15. Paul is eager to preach the Gospel.

How different Paul’s attitude is to many Christians today. So often, our evangelism is caricaturised by reluctance rather than enthusiasm.

Not so with Paul! Already in this letter, we have been told how Paul prayed he would get to Rome, verse 10, how he longed to get to Rome, verse 11, how he made his plans to get to Rome, verse 13 and in verse 15 how he is was eager to preach to gospel to those in Rome.
Wouldn’t it be great if we shared Paul’s eagerness? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we like Paul were constantly preoccupied with how we could share the Gospel with the world, making plans to speak to people about Jesus, continuingly praying that God would bless those plans?

That would be terrific wouldn’t it? But why has Paul got that enthusiasm and I haven’t? What is the source of his eagerness? What has made Paul so committed to the task of evangelism?
Well it’s not hard to figure out because Paul tells us himself directly. Verse 15 begins “That is why in am so eager…” ... What is why?... Verse 14 is why! Paul’s obligation is why he is so eager to preach the gospel in Rome.

Paul knew he was in debt and so he was eager to discharge that debt.

Let’s go back to the example of borrowing money. If someone gives me something to pass on to you, then I am in your debt. Now suppose that something is a cheep bottle of wine or t-shirt you left behind or something equally worthless… like a ticket for the 5th day of the test match. If it is something of little worth then I hope you won’t be surprised if I don’t rush to pass it on.

But if that something is of great value then my attitude will be completely different. If I am given a massive diamond or a Gold Rolex or something like that to pass on to you then I will be desperate to fulfil my obligation to you because I appreciate the magnitude of my obligation.

That is the source of Paul’s eagerness. By receiving the Gospel he has become obliged to pass on the Gospel (verse 14) and he is eager to do that because he understands the value of the gospel, which we will see in verse 16.

But there is another reason for Paul’s eagerness, and we find that at the start of verse 16. “I am not ashamed of the gospel” says Paul.

Why is it necessary for Paul to tell us this? Well Paul knows very well what real gospel ministry is like. Often, instead of receiving the gospel with joy, the world dismisses it. The cross of Christ is ridiculed, faith in Christ crucified is considered foolishness and those trusting in Christ are treated with contempt.

If Paul is to be eager to preach the Gospel against such opposition then not only must he appreciate the obligation of the Gospel but he must also not be ashamed of the Gospel.
And the origin of this (and of the other attitudes of Paul to evangelism) lie not in the character of Paul, but in the Nature of Gospel itself. It is a powerful Gospel of salvation from God

Paul is going to outline the nature of the Gospel in the verses that flow. And incidentally, it is the nature of the Gospel that will be Paul’s theme for the rest of the letter.
In verses 16, 17 and 18, Paul is going speak of the Power of God, a righteousness from God and the wrath of God.

Let’s engage Paul in conversation through these few verses and see how these ideas fit together:

Paul, you say you are not ashamed of the gospel… why not?

Paul: Well, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. This promise was made to the Jews first and now is for anyone.

But how is this going to happen Paul?

Well because in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed that is received by faith.

But why’s that necessary Paul?

Well because the wrath of God is against all wickedness is revealed.

That is the essence of the Gospel: God powerfully rescues us from his wrath by giving to us his righteousness when we believe and trust in Jesus.

No wonder Paul says ‘i am not ashamed of Good news like that!’

No wonder Paul feels obliged to pass to warn people that the wrath of God on sin. No wonder Paul is eager to tell people about Jesus Christ crucified for sins.
It is because he knows that the Gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

And it is this fact that we must keep in our minds and in our hearts. Because above all it is a correct understanding of the Gospel that produces a correct and sustaining attitude for spreading the Gospel.

Before we finish, let’s bring out a couple more things from verse 16. one an encouragement and one a warning.

Let’s start with the warning, and the warning is this, We mustn’t change the Gospel, Why? Because we have no authority to change it and we have no power to change it.
The gospel comes from God and so it’s not ours to change!

Many have been tempted over the years to try and change it. Sometimes with good intensions sometimes with bad.

No doubt out multi-faith society would dearly love us to proclaim a gospel that is something other than salvation by faith Christ alone!

And do doubt we ourselves have sometimes have been tempted to do that. When we are faced with a friend who seems unmoved by our message or worst still, their reaction is one of revulsion and contempt at the truth of Christ crucified for sin.

But we have no rite to change the Gospel, because it is a gospel from God.

But the encouragement is this: We have no need to change the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation and there is nothing more powerful than God. No change we make to the gospel message could possibly make is more potent or powerful, because it is not us at work in the Gospel, but God.

And that is perhaps the greatest assurance of all in these verses. Our evangelism is not dependant on our how cleaver we are, or how eloquent a speaker we are but on God, on his power in the Gospel.

Surly that is the greatest encouragement we can receive.


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