The apostle Paul saw clearly that it was both a privilege and a responsibility to make Christ known. He uses three expressions in Romans chapter 1 that demonstrate his attitude and approach.
1 The personal obligation to preach
Firstly, in verse 14, he says, ‘I am a debtor’. The apostle clearly saw that to preach Christ was a debt he had to discharge. To make the gospel known was an obligation and a duty. In fact, he felt a calamity would fall upon him if he did not preach the gospel, and accordingly he says in 1 Corinthians 9. 16, ‘necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel’. He was therefore prepared to use every appropriate means to fulfil this ministry.
Peter and John were each possessed of the same spirit. Having been commanded by the council, ‘not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus’, they made it plain that they could not ‘but speak the things, which we have seen and heard’, Acts 4. 18, 20.
This sense of indebtedness should surely characterize each one of us as the Lord’s people. To what degree do we discharge this obligation? Paul felt he had a debt to each, whether to cultivated and civilised Greeks or to the unlearned, rude Barbarians. He saw that each needed it and that by divine grace each would be capable of receiving it.
Was not this the same debt felt by Hudson Taylor, burdened with the plight of millions of Chinese perishing without knowledge of the Saviour, and also by so many others who at great personal cost have gone out to reach others with the message of life?
2 The personal willingness to go
Secondly, Paul states, ‘I am ready’, v. 15. As Paul thought of the debt he had to discharge he makes it clear that he was not at all unwilling in the matter. He had a personal readiness, being both eager and willing. Here is the apostle fulfilling his own exhortation which he gave to the Ephesians in which he exhorts them to walk as those who are wise by ‘redeeming the time’, Eph. 5. 14. The thought in this statement is that every opportunity as it presents itself is to be bought up. Here again is the great personal challenge to each of us. Do I have that same preparedness of spirit as the apostle had as he anticipated his visit to Rome?
3 The personal honour to serve
Paul had earlier stated that he served God with his spirit in the gospel of His Son, Rom. 1. 9. That this was no mere mechanical exercise is further evident from the expression in verse 16 where he affirms, ‘I am not ashamed’.
In the figure of speech the apostle uses here, a thing is demeaned in order to increase its intensity. He is indicating in the strongest terms that he counted it an honour to preach the gospel of Christ. This fact is further emphasized in Romans chapter 15 verse 20, where he says that he had, ‘so strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named’. The verb ‘so strive’ used here is found elsewhere in our New Testament only in 2 Corinthians 5. 9 and 1 Thessalonians 4. 11. It has the thought of ‘loving the honour’ or ‘being ambitious’ of doing something. And what an inestimable honour this is, given to us by God Himself, that we might make known the saving wonders of His Son. This honour has not been given to angels. They have a great interest in the gospel and rejoice over repentant sinners, Luke 15. 10; Acts 8. 26; 10. 3; 1 Pet. 1. 11-12, but God has given to us His people the honour of proclaiming life and liberty to those who sit in darkness and under the shadow of death.
Here then we face another challenging question. Do I really love the honour of making Christ known? If I do, then in what ways is this evidenced in my life?
It is time to take a responsible view
I thank God personally for a good heritage in two respects. Firstly, for godly parents whose only ambitions for me were that I should be saved and continue in a life of fellowship with the Lord. Secondly, I was brought up by parents in an assembly fellowship from whom I learned by life and lip the privileges and responsibilities of belonging to a local company of God’s people. Assemblies as we know them, despite the difficulties that from time to time have beset them, have a great heritage. Those who criticize and leave should, I believe, think very hard as to exactly what they are leaving and into what they are going.
Growing up in South London I heard, both locally and throughout the metropolis, what must surely rank as some of the finest ministry since the days of the apostles. There were so many Bible readings, ministry meetings and conferences at which I could learn the great truths of God’s word. This in turn stimulated a personal interest in the study of the Scriptures. Throughout this period, however, the assemblies in the British Isles have been declining and many have ceased to exist. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, but lack of real endeavour in the gospel must bear a large part of the blame. Is it not time then to give priority to the spread of the gospel? Only by regaining the offensive in the gospel is there any hope for the future of assembly testimony.
Against this background there are certain things that can be said without fear of contradiction.
The demands for personal action – consecration
To regain the gospel offensive there is a need for the renewal of personal consecration to the Lord Jesus. Whilst men always seem to think in terms of organisations and associations, things which are in fact foreign to the tenor of scripture, God always thinks in terms of people, raised up and fitted by Him and devoted to His Son, through whom He will do what needs to be done. The New Testament is full of such, and the history of gospel endeavour demonstrates it time and again. Whether we think of a William Carey, a Fred Stanley-Arnott, a David Brainerd or a Jim Elliott, we are faced with those whose lives were completely yielded to the risen Lord and placed at His disposal.
Consecration to Christ will mean that His will is mine; my time is His. All my powers will be yielded to Him for His glory. If a Christian is not so yielded it will be a chore rather than a delight to speak of the Lord and a drudgery to work for Him. Hudson Taylor is on record as saying that the secret of a dissatisfied life lies all too often in an unsurrendered will. Perhaps we need more of the spirit of the Hebrew slave who devotedly forsook all his liberties for the sake of his master, Num. 21. 1-6. On this passage is based the words of the hymn,
My Master lead me to Thy door,
Pierce this now willing ear once more;
Thy bonds are freedom, let me stay
With Thee to toil, endure, obey.
The demands for personal action – prayer
Further, to regain the gospel offensive there is a need for revival in sanctuary dealings with God. This is the forgotten art of unceasing prayer and intercession. In connection with his witness in the gospel, Paul sought the prayer support of other Christians. He constantly asked the others to pray for him that he might have utterance and have boldness, Rom. 15. 30; Eph. 6. 19-20; Col. 4. 3-4. These requests could only have come from one who gave priority to time spent in the presence of his God on behalf of work in the gospel. This same spirit of dependence and recourse to prayer is often seen in the book of Acts as the believers realized the enormity of the task they were required to fulfil. The life of our Lord Jesus Christ also serves to underline the need to be in constant communion with heaven. Observe the nights our Saviour spent in prayer before busy days of service. Again the opening verses of Acts chapter 16 show us that the apostolic band were in earnest supplication to God so that their movements in service might be as He would have them.
Is it possible that we have come to depend on means and methods more than on the Lord? How often when service is barren Christians tend to look, not to God, but organization and method. Having toiled all night and caught nothing there is no way to proceed but to begin to act in complete dependence upon the Lord, John 21. 5-6. Do we need to learn afresh that the arm of flesh will fail us, or to rediscover that, ‘without me ye can do nothing’, John 15. 5.
Prayer goes with service
hand in hand,
By this we know the Master’s will;
The servant kneels
that he may stand
Self-emptied for the Lord to fill.
The demands for personal action – living the gospel
We should further note that to regain the gospel offensive there would be a need to rediscover gospel standards for our lifestyle. At Thessalonica Paul taught the new believers how they ‘ought to walk and to please God’, 1 Thess. 4. 1. Both Paul’s exemplary behaviour among them and their personal witness throughout Macedonia and Achaia, were powerfully effective through God in furthering the cause of the gospel. This is a major lesson for our present day. Can we communicate the gospel to the lost if we behave as they do? Do the same interests and ambitions as those who are in darkness characterize our daily lives? It is impossible for a believer to tell the sinner of his need of salvation from sin while indulging in a lifestyle that is less than holy and seeking the same pleasures and entertainment. There must be a difference. In an age when so many Christians say that non- Christians need to see that we are just like them, we must needs be reminded that we are to be holy and pure.
To the Philippians Paul stresses the need not only for individual behaviour that becomes the gospel, but also for that assembly unity which is vital to preaching the gospel with power and liberty, Phil. 2. 2-4, 14-16. Somebody once said, ‘there is no point in a bunch of irreconcilables preaching a gospel of reconciliation!’ They were right! Materialism, self love, lack of personal holiness and disunity may be sins that we will need to take the knife to and judge before any advances in testimony can be made.
The demands for personal action – a full gospel message
It should also be noted that in order to regain the gospel offensive there must be a recovery of gospel truth. So much that passes for gospel testimony is actually very wide of the mark. The old gospel does not see that man is altogether a rebel to the will of God. This new gospel can be communicated, evidently, by puppet shows, rock music and mime. It presents Christ only as the missing factor and maintains that if only a person would get to know Him, his life would be fulfilled. All this is very far from the truth of the gospel as scripture sets it out.
Man’s ruin, God’s remedy and man’s responsibility, all plainly seen in the Epistle to the Romans, must form the basis of the message. There is no leeway given in scripture which would allow any part of that message to be deleted, diluted or added to. Paul had not shunned to declare to the Ephesians the whole counsel of God, Acts 20. 27. It is as we appropriate by faith the true plight of the sinner and the wonders of the cross that we shall be able to represent Christ properly ‘in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world’, Phil. 2. 15.
Some say that we cannot expect to see revival in our day. Such pessimism is totally unwarranted. May we pray, as did Old Testament saints, ‘Revive us’, and ‘Revive thy work, O Lord’. May the Lord give us to see His hand opened anew in rich gospel blessing. To Him is all the glory.