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Paul the Man of God

Stonebrook Community Church http://www.stonebrook.org

Romans 15:14-33 Paul the Man of God

If you have read the NT much, you probably have a great admiration for the Apostle Paul.
He was and is the greatest single influencer on the world with the message of Jesus Christ.

Not only did he influence much of southwest Asia and Europe with the gospel, he wrote 13 letters inspired by God that have been preserved for us even 2000 years later.

But in Paul’s day, he was often vilified. Hated.
Many thought he was crazy.
In Acts 26, the Roman ruler Festus said to Paul, “You are out of your mind, Paul. Your great learning is driving you insane!”

Read Paul’s account of his suffering:

2 Corinthians 11:24–28 ESV Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;
Slide
27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

What kind of person would keep going after each suffering?
If we didn’t know better, we would ask:
What is wrong with this man? How could he continue to face the fear of torture and beatings and hatred?

Paul is an unusual man.
Before he knew Christ, he knew the OTHER side of suffering.
He administered it. He so hated Jesus and Jesus’ followers that he exerted great passion in tracking them down, imprisoning them, and even participating in their murder.

A few years later, recorded in Acts 9, Paul has a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ. And so he humbles himself, repents of his sin, believes in Jesus whom he had persecuting.
And the Lord has a special assignment for Paul.
Paul is to become the greatest spokesman for Christ in the 1st century.
Paul is to take the gospel to the non-Jewish world. The Gentiles. The nations.

Amazing. God’s grace is amazing.
Because of Paul’s violent past, he might FAIL Stonebrook’s background check to work in our Sunday School. Yet God chooses him to become his spokesman, and his life is transformed from the inside out.

Other than the Son of God, of course, Paul becomes our greatest example of godliness. This morning, we will learn from Paul.

Romans 15:14-33

We are nearing the end of Romans.
Next week is our last week. 38 weeks total spread out over 19 months.
Matt’s teaching last week up to 15:13 largely ends Paul’s exposition of the deep truths of the faith.
He spend many chapters explaining the richness of our salvation. He spends almost 4 chapters giving us some extraordinarily rich commands to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus.
Now in the last half of chapter 15 and next week in Chapter 16, Paul gets more personal. Some interaction from his heart to the people in Rome.
He tells them some of his story. And speaks of his ministry as an apostle.
So this section can feel less relatable.
• Today’s passage doesn’t really contain any commands.
• Nor does it contain the deep explanations of the gospel that we see in the first half of the letter.

So what do we do with this section??
One thing is that we learn Paul is human. He has a heart. He loves people. He has trials.
Since he is the central figure in the first century as an ambassador for Jesus, it’s good to know more about him. But we are not merely to learn ABOUT him. We are to learn FROM him.
One of several commands we have is from Philippians.
Philippians 4:9 ESV “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
We are to imitate Paul’s heart and love and knowledge and passion.

I love observing people. I learn best by watching.
I learn by hanging out with so many of you. My fellow pastors. My Life Group. I learn by watching your lives.
It’s one reason I enjoy reading biographies.
Biographies of godly men and women like Hudson Taylor and Mary Slessor, both missionaries in the 1800’s. Biographies of various leaders. On Thursday, I stopped at the library and picked up biographies for two U.S. Presidents. I learn from the good and the bad. From their strength and weaknesses.

Let’s read. Start at vs. 14. Page 949.
We will examine what Paul believes, and how that belief inspires him to action.

Vs. 14 Paul believes God is at work

Let’s look at what Paul says to the Romans.

Explanation

Romans 15:14 “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.”

What does Paul believe? He believes God is at work.
Paul here is convinced of something in their lives. He is persuaded there is a goodness in their lives.
If we remember Romans at all, we know he is not talking about some inherent goodness in man.
He knows man is a sinner in need of salvation.
What he is speaking of is the work of Christ in them. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is “goodness,” the same word. Paul is saying, “I am confident that the Spirit of God is at work in you.”

And the he says, “I can also see you are filled with all knowledge.”
He doesn’t mean they are omniscient like God, having all knowledge of all things.
He means, I believe, that they have a solid knowledge of the truth of the gospel, to the extent that they are able to instruct one another in those truths.

I love how personal Paul is, and how much of an encourager he is.
He could simply take for granted their maturity, but he takes a moment to build them up in their faith. To instill some confidence in them that about God, that yes indeed God is at work in them and will finish his work.
He’s not worried about them getting boastful and proud. He knows it is God at work in them.
It reminds me of Paul’s words to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 1:6 ESV “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

We need to hear those words from Paul. And from one another.

Application
What can we learn from Paul?
We can learn about Paul’s confidence in God, that he is working in each Christian’s heart.
I suspect I’m not the only one here this morning who is tempted to find fault.
To criticize.
To point fingers…. when actually I have plenty of problems just in myself.
But it’s glorious to have the kind heart of God and eyes of faith to observe and find Christ working in others. Then commend them for it. Praise God for them.
Are we people who are growing in our confidence in the Lord, that his Spirit is at work in our fellow Christians?
And are we, like the Romans, people who are instructing one another?
Telling one another about God’s mercies in his Son?
Speaking about the calling of God to worship him with our lives?
Instead of sitting back passively, unengaged in helping others learn… are we instead involved. Active. Speaking. Even correcting, when necessary?

I know how much it strengthens me when someone commends me for the work that God is doing in me.
It strengthens my faith: “Oh, yes, God IS at work.”
I can so easily forget. I have my head down and I’m working and serving and living. Sometimes I need someone to lift my eyes up and see God at work.
And it helps us want to keep pressing on.

So learn from Paul’s example.
Find the work of God in others, and tell them of your confidence in the Lord that he will continue that good work.

Vs. 15-16 Paul believes we are not finished learning

Explanation

Romans 15:15–16 ESV “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 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.”

So Paul just finishes commending them.
But now he says, without apology, that he has needed to be very BOLD with them and remind them of the great truths about Jesus and the gospel.

So what does Paul believe? Paul believes that none of us are finished learning and growing.

When we read Paul’s letters, he is often very bold and blunt.
Some of his letters are highly corrective, straightening out some serious problems.
1 Corinthians is the best known one.
The church had some enormous problems.
Divisiveness. Arguing.
Drunkenness.
Sexual immorality.
Boasting.
Misusing spiritual gifts.
Other letters are filled with a lot more praise, like Philippians.
But in all cases, Paul is quite direct. LOVING, but direct.

And he’s not worried about telling them the same thing twice. Or three times. Or more.

Application
What can we learn from Paul’s example?
Have you ever come to church, heard a sermon, and thought, “Yeah, I already know that. Tell me something I don’t know.” I have. Paul would gently rebuke me. “Yes, you know these things. But you need to know them more. And you will forget, so you need to hear it again. And again.”

A couple weeks ago 6 of us from Stonebrook went to some training in Des Moines to learn how to teach and counsel others better using the wisdom of the Bible. I went into it thinking I knew a fair amount. I had some pride in me as I wondered how much I would learn. But I was humbled and amazed how much I need to learn. And I was amazed by how much I can learn about how to pass on the truth of God to others.

Paul knows…and deep inside, we ALL know…that we are not finished learning. And he and we know how often we need reminding of even the most basic truths.
Peter said some similar words.

2 Peter 3:1 ESV “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder…”

We never graduate from learning and re-learning and going deeper.
We are like plants. We are a living organism, and we send or roots deeper and deeper.
Every day we need water. Every day we need the soil. Every day we need the sun.
Then we will grow.
Then we will bear fruit.

So what should we do?
Every day, we should go before the Lord with a fresh heart.
Pray before you come here every Sunday morning.
Pray with your spouse or roommate. Pray with your children.

“Lord, I need you today. I need to hear from you. I need to be reminded again.
“Teach me this morning. Teach me at my Life Group. Remind me on Sunday morning.”

Remember that while on earth, you won’t graduate from learning.
So we should be humble. And commit to being a lifelong learner.

Vs. 17-19 Paul believes Christ is at work in him

Explanation
His satisfaction and even boasting in what he has accomplished in people.

Romans 15:17-19 “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, by the power of signs and wonders, 19 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…”

Paul says he is proud of his work for God.
It literally means, “I GLORY in my work for God. I BOAST in my work.”
WHAT? Isn’t pride and boasting and glorying WRONG?

What is he saying?
If we have good Bible reading skills, we will take our time and examine this.
First, he says, “In Christ…I have reason to be proud.”
So he’s not degrading himself into a self-centered boasting.
Actually he is promoting Jesus. He is glorying in the work he has accomplished in Christ. In the power of the gospel.

Then examine the next sentence: “I won’t speak about anything I have done except what Christ has accomplished through me.”
He is giving Christ the credit.
God has called him to be an apostle to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. To the rest of the nations.
And he is pleased that by the power of God, he has been used by God to do that.
He has done what Jesus called him to do.

Application
What can we apply from Paul’s example?

Our natural tendency is to boast in ourselves. In our sinful tendencies, we want to boast in ourselves. We want to build ourselves up. And it usually is in a comparative sense.

C.S. Lewis had this remarkable insight into pride:
“Pride is essentially competitive— is competitive by its very nature… Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Such boasting is SO alluring.
And then we Christian-ize our boasting.
I want to know the Bible better than my brother.
I want to pray more.
I want to serve more.
I want to influence more people for Jesus.
I want to be a better Mom or Dad.
I want my Life Group to be better than yours.
If we’re honest, we ALL have to admit we’ve thought that way before. Perhaps even often. Maybe even this morning when we walked in to this room to worship God.
In a both humorous and sad sort of way, we really are hypocritical at times. I’m grieved when I succumb to such tempations.

Paul is humble to admit that his boasting is in Jesus. God is at work in him.

1 Corinthians 15:9–10 ESV “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Work for Jesus, but only by the strength Jesus provides. Humble yourself before him. Give him whatever strength and skill and ability you have, and let him empower you by the Holy Spirit. Don’t work by mere human strength or intellect.
And then glory in God that he is working in this world through someone so small and frail as you.

Vs. 20-21 Paul believes God loves the world

Explanation

Romans 15:20-21 “… 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, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.””

What does Paul believe? Several things, but what I will focus on is that Paul believes God has a heart for people all over the world.
Like John 3:16 when Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Paul believes every person matters to God.
And he believes that there is one and only one answer for the greatest problem we face. The answer is Jesus.

This combined with Paul’s special calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles…to the non-Jewish world…compelled Paul to want to take the gospel to unreached people.
To people who had never heard the name Jesus.

Application
What can we apply from Paul’s example?
First, let me be clear. Paul does not command all of us to pack up and go to remote parts of the world to talk about Jesus.
It’s a noble and beautiful action. But we are not commanded.
However, that does not mean we shouldn’t be inspired by Paul.
His love for people and his commitment to spread the news about Jesus is inspiring.
God may call some of us to go to the remote parts of the earth.
From Stonebrook, I think of a couple people:
• Matt Dickinson who recently went to Nepal in Asia for a period of time.
• Mary O’Bannon and her husband Devin. Mary is the daughter of Scott and Kathy Hanson.
They recently moved to Papua New Guinea near Australia to participate in translating the Bible for remote Third World tribes who don’t have a Bible in their language.
Perhaps the Lord has called all of them long-term to bring the gospel to unreached groups. That’s beautiful. For the rest of us, I don’t know if that’s the Lord’s call for us. But we ought to be open to it.

And we ought to believe, like Paul does, that the Lord loves people all over the world. People of various ethnic groups and languages. Paul believed they ALL needed Jesus.

Jesus made it clear of his heart for the world.

Matthew 28:19–20 ESV “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Make disciples of all the nations. All over the world.

Vs. 22-29

Some personal words to the church about his future plans. We will skip this part for sake of time.

Vs. 30-33 Paul believes God hears prayer

Explanation
Here he asks for prayer.

Romans 15:30–33 ESV “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.”

Do you remember the list of suffering I read from 2 Corinthians 11?
Paul suffered a great deal of persecution.
It was painful….hurting both body and soul.
Humiliating.
Unjust.
So understandably, Paul knows he needs prayer. He assumes he will continue to encounter persecution in many of the places he goes for Jesus.
And Paul believes that God answers prayer. So he asks the Roman Christians to pray for him.
There is nothing flashy or unusual about that, is there?

Application
What can we learn here?
I was impressed with this: Prayer is a community work.
Paul is not independent, doing his own thing. It is not just about Paul praying for Paul, and the Romans praying for the Romans. This may seem rather elementary to many of you, but to me this is profound.

Confession: I am fiercely independent by nature. I was raised to be rather independent. And that fits my personality rather nicely. I do my thing, you do your thing, and we’ll all be fine.

But slowly over the many years, God has opened my eyes and enlarged my heart to see the glory in the church. In one another. In community. With a very independent mindset, I can view Paul’s prayer request in more of an intellectual, independent way: “I pray for me, you pray for you. It’s all prayer. Why do we need to pray for each other? It’s a one-to-one ratio, isn’t it?”
But Paul shows us, and the rest of the Bible shows us, that it’s not about math or efficiency or independence. It’s about family. It’s about relationships. And community. And koinonia.
Paul believes God hears prayer, and he believes in true, biblical community. So he asks them to support him and love him by praying for him.
We are to share in one another’s lives in a myriad of ways.
And one of those is to pray for one another.
And I am referring to earnest prayer. Have you ever said to someone, “I will pray for you,” but not meant it? Or have you ever said that and meant it, but forgotten to do it?
There have been many times when I was going to say, “I will pray for you,” but I hesitated.
I had to ask myself, “Do I really mean this? I hope so, but I don’t want to fake it. And I don’t want to forget it.”

We can and should pray for one another. Others here at Stonebrook.
That’s one reason we have Life Groups.
So that we know a few people well enough to know their true needs. And to support them in prayer.

And we can also pray for Christians around the world who, like Paul, are facing severe persecution.
This week, Annette and I listened to a podcast from Voice of the Martyrs ministry. This Christian man…his name is Petr Jasek…. from the Czech Republic was in Africa in Sudan helping Christians there, when he was arrested and thrown in prison for 14 months.
For the first number of months, he was in a very small prison cell with six other men. These six men were members of ISIS.

Daily Petr was mistreated by them.
He tried to love them and show Christ’s kindness to them, and the nicer he was, the worse they treated him.
While these ISIS members went through their prayer rituals, they would force him to kneel in front of the toilet facing the opposite direction.
They would beat him with a stick.
One day they were threatening to torture him by waterboarding, and Peter was so weak by this time, he was sure he would not survive.

But amazingly he was taken out of that prison and sent to another one.
In that prison, he had more freedom. And he and two pastors were able to minister to prisoners, and preach the gospel.
Finally just a few weeks ago in February, after 14 months of imprisonment, he was released.

Persecution is alive and well on planet earth.
We should pray for Christians in various countries to be delivered from evil men who hate Jesus.
It is very frightening for many Christians. In Syria. Iran. Sudan. Nigeria. China. Nepal. India. North Korea.
Go to website: www.persecution.com
Pray they would stay true to Christ. Not lose heart. Not deny him.
That they wouldn’t be afraid.
That they wouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel.
We can be afraid of speaking up for Jesus, but when we hear the stories of Christians suffering for Jesus around the world, we can be strengthened.
We can say, “If they can stand up for Jesus, I can, too.”

Conclusion

Paul’s life is meant to inspire us.
He commanded various churches, “As I imitate Christ, so you should imitate me.”
As you read the NT, understand that these Paul’s letters are written by a simple man to churches and individuals just like us.
They are real letters. They are personal. They are truthful.
Our goal is to become more and more like the Lord.
Paul said to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children.”