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TEXT: Romans 15:15-33
SUBJECT: Romans #26: Paul's Ambition
If you had to describe Paul's character in one word, I'm not sure you could improve on this one: ambitious. The Apostle was an ambitious man, driven in whatever he set out to do. We don't know everything about his life, of course, but what we know is consistent with what I've said.
As a young man, Paul was a scholar and a tentmaker. The combination sounds funny to us, but every Jewish man worked with his hands-or knew how to. There was a saying current in Paul's day, and wise parents still live by it-
The father who does not teach his son to work, teaches him to steal.
Gamaliel was his theological tutor, and his was a name that commanded respect in Israel. Dull or lazy boys did not study with the master, but only the sharpest young men with the best work ethic. This is what Paul was: very smart and even harder working. He makes this point in Galatians 1:14, and he made it to people who could have refuted him if it hadn't been true-
And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries, in my own nation, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
We know less about his tent making prowess, but there's enough in his letters to make us think, he threw himself into it, too, with body and soul. As a middle aged man, who could have lived off the Thessalonian church without apology, he chose to live off the sweat of his face-
We.worked with labor and toil night and day that we might not be a burden to you.
Like my late father, Paul was wired for hard work. Clarence Thomas was brought up by his grandfather, a man who had no sympathy for laziness for feeling sorry for yourself. Grandpa had a saying that the judge never forgot-
Old Man Caint is dead;
I buried him.
This is the kind of man Paul was-before he was a man. Later, he took the same zeal into other areas of life, first as a persecutor of the Church, and then as an Apostle of Christ.
All the leaders of Israel hated the Church and wanted to see their people rid of it. But no one matched Paul, who first-
Consented to the death of Stephen,
Breathed out threatenings and slaughter.and made havoc of the church, entering homes, dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
When the Lord saved Paul from his disastrous life, he put the same passion into building up the Church he once tried to destroy.
Except for our Lord Jesus, no one lived by the old saw better than Paul did-
Whatever you hand finds to do,
Do it with all our might.
He was an enthusiast for Christ and His Church.
THE FIRST TOPIC
This brings us to the first part of today's text, to Romans 15:15-21. Whatever the subtleties you can find in the verses, what grabs you in reading it is the fire in Paul's belly. Remember, he is no longer a young man; he's much closer to martyrdom than he is to conversion. Paul had already poured himself into the Gentile mission, founding churches all over Asia Minor and Southern Europe. But he's in no mood for taking it easy, for living out his later years in peace and quiet.
Paul was not a healthy man and all his traveling, suffering, and overwork took their toll on his aging body. But not on his spirit! On the inside, Paul was getting younger and stronger and more energetic by the day.
His passion for ministry was fuelled by two things-and they weren't base things like money or reputation or what men call 'success'.
What moved him, first, was his sense of calling. How come Paul became a preacher? And, of all the people he might have preached to, why did he go to the Gentiles-to the nations he grew up hating and despising? He tells us at the end of v.15 and the start of v.16-
Because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God.
His mission to the Gentiles was a grace of God, and that means it was a gift or a favor the Lord conferred on him. Before he was converted, a life lived among-and for-the Gentiles would have seemed a burden, if not a curse. But now he sees what it really is: a blessing designed just for him, and a calling where he will find his highest usefulness and happiness on earth.
Paul describes his calling to preach the Gospel with the most sacred language he knew, that is, the language of priesthood. No one was more favored in Israel than the priest. While other worked in fields and shops and boats, the priest worked in the Temple, where the visible Presence of God was just on the other side of the curtain. While others inherited land with borders, the priests inherited a God without borders, the Lord who filled Heaven and earth, but was not contained in them.
Priests conferred holiness on everything they touched. A shepherd brought a lamb to the Temple for sacrifice. Though a prize lamb, that's all it was-a lamb. But when the priest laid his hand on its head, it became more than a fine animal. It became God's lamb, and therefore, holy, holy enough to foreshadow Christ who is-
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
What priests did for lambs, Paul was doing for the Gentiles! His Gospel was taking heathen men and women-full of spots and blemishes-and making them saints, God's peculiar people.
But there's more than this here. Men were born into priestly families, but they didn't enter the priesthood at birth or on their own initiative. They were trained for five years and then publicly ordained. By laying their hands on the younger men, the priests were enabling them to offer sacrifices to the Lord.
This is what Paul is doing. By preaching the Gospel and teaching the Word, he is enabling Gentiles-people who used to worship idols and serve demons-to-
Offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.
The Apostle was a called man, and the knowledge of his calling fueled his enthusiasm. Paul was not a drifter or an indecisive man. He knew what the Lord ha called him to do and, he-
Did it with all his might.
From this we should learn: We, too, are called. No one living is an Apostle and most of us will never be missionaries, but every Christian has a high calling. We're called to be saints, agents of God in the world, bringing His light to the darkness all around us. This applies to every believer, man, woman, or child; single, married, separated, or divorced; it applies to professionals, to tradesman, to students and to people who don't have a job.
You will never be an enthusiastic Christian until you get a sense of your calling. As in the case of Paul, God separated you from your mother's womb, and called you by His grace to serve Him. Don't worry about how little your gifts are or how few your opportunities-just use them, and not half-heartedly, put your whole self into the service of the King.
A sense of calling is what moved Paul to serve the Lord with zeal.
The other thing that moved him was God's promise. Paul was called to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and-by way of the prophets-the Lord had promised him success-
To whom He was not announced,
They shall see;
Those who have not heard
The Old Covenant promised to make Israel God's People, and they, in turn, a light to the Gentiles. It would have done both, if the people had obeyed it. Of course, they didn't, and Israel became as dark as the rest of the world.
Their failure did not thwart God's purposes. By enacting a New Covenant on their behalf, the Israel of God would become the light of the world.
This means the nations that had never heard of God or of His Law would come to know Him and live under His Lordship. Not all of them would, of course, but some would. And this is who Paul lived for-for the ones who would hear the Gospel and respond to it in repentance and faith.
Paul was sure the New Covenant would not fail; how can a crucified Christ not draw all men to Himself? How could an outpouring of the Spirit fail to renew the earth? If the Risen Jesus is a kind of first fruits to God, how can the rest of the harvest fail to come in?
Paul sets the example of hopeful living and ministry! Maybe we have seen so few results because we have not had the guts to believe in them! We thought our problems were bigger than our God and that our lost friends and family were beyond His reach.
William Carey was the father of modern missions. And what moved this English cobbler to become a missionary to India was faith in the greatness of God's character and the sureness of His promises-
Attempt great things for God
Expect great things from God.
This is what moved Paul to strike out in all directions-not a hunger for personal fame, but the belief that God intends to make Himself famous to the ends of the earth!
Paul was an enthusiast for Christ and His Church. As the bumper sticker says, he-
DOWN TO EARTH WORK
And acted locally.
Some Christians dream big and do little. They fantasize about winning continents to Christ, but aren't so good at witnessing to their neighbors. They've got dreams of founding charities, what they haven't got is spare change for the man who needs a cup of coffee.
No one dreamed bigger than Paul, but his soaring dreams didn't keep him from doing his earthbound duty. This is what vv.22-33 is about.
Paul wants to go to Spain with the Gospel. And remember, except for Britain, Spain was the end of the world for men of Paul's day. But before he does that, he's got a less romantic trip to make, and a dangerous one too.
For months, he and his partners have been collecting money in Southern Europe to help the poor churches of Judea. Now that he's got it, Paul is going to sail for Jerusalem to hand over the much needed funds.
This could have been done by lesser men-but Paul sees it as his duty. If he has collected the money, it is his responsibility to see it reaches the people it was intended for.
He's going to Jerusalem-and, for him, that means going into the lions' den. Paul is the most hated man in Israel and people have taken vows to assassinate him. He hopes they won't, of course, and he begs to Romans to pray they won't. But whether it costs him his life or not, he's going to do his duty.
If he should escape his enemies in Israel, he'll come to Rome for the first time, and enjoy the fellowship of the brethren. Did he make it? Yes, he did, but not in the way he hoped to. He came to Rome as a prisoner, accused by his countrymen, and finally, losing his head on Caesar's chopping block.
But before he lost his head, he spent more than two years in Rome and had the fellowship he had longed for for so long.
The peace of God he wished for them, they got, and so did he.
SUMMARY AND CLOSE
Ambition and obedience. These were the hallmarks of Paul's life and ministry. The Lord wants us to follow his example, to know who we are and to become who we are. This is the Bible's doctrine of sanctification: Become what you are.
You are the children of the light;
Walk as children of the light.
What's hindering you? Is it a lack of ambition-a complacency with how things are? You know there's a Bible word for 'complacency', and if you know where it comes from you won't like it too well. The word is-
Was Paul this way? Was Jesus this way? Is God this way? If not, let us repent of our coldness and our lazy satisfactions!
Maybe you have ambition to spare, big dreams of what you're going to be. Wonderful. But are you allowing the big dreams to keep you from the complying with the small duties of life? There's a Bible word for this too-
Hearers of the Word and not doers.
The Lord doesn't want dreams, He wants obedience-
To obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed is better than the fat
May God give us the ambition and obedience we all need to glorify Him in the world. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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