Paul the Minister to the Gentiles (Romans 15:14-21)
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Saturday, November 6 and Sunday, November 7, 2021
A small bottle containing urine sat upon the desk of Sir William Osler. He was then the eminent professor of medicine at Oxford University. Sitting before him was a classroom full of young, wide-eyed medical students listening to his lecture on the importance of observing details. To emphasize his point, he reached down and picked up the bottle. Holding it high, he announced:
This bottle contains a sample for analysis. It’s often possible by tasting it to determine the disease from which the patient suffers.
Suiting action to words, he dipped a finger into the fluid and then into his mouth, as he continued—
Now I am going to pass the bottle around. Each of you please do exactly as I did. Perhaps we can learn the importance of this technique and diagnose the case.
The bottle made its way from row to row as each student gingerly poked his finger in and bravely sampled the contents with a frown. Dr. Osler then retrieved the bottle and startled his students with the words:
Gentlemen, now you will understand what I mean when I speak about details. Had you been observant you would have seen that I put my index finger into the bottle but my middle finger into my mouth!
We continue our trek through Romans. Today, observe Paul’s passion for the gospel.
My theme today is that Paul desired to take the Gospel to the UNCHURCHED, those who had NEVER HEARD the Gospel.
The Application: I hope we also take care to SHARE the Gospel.
- Paul’s ministry (verses 14-18)
- Paul has written about conscious issues and sacrificing for each other and now he moves on.
- The last section really ended with a prayer.
- Now, he talks about his mission, his passion.
- This is interesting because in Romans we see the mutual need for Jews and gentiles to know Christ.
- Romans 1: gentiles need a Savior.
- Romans 2: Jews need a Savior.
- Romans 3: all need a Savior.
- Paul continues weaving these themes in the letter.
- Now, Paul talks about his ministry to the gentiles.
- Look at verse 14, 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.
- Paul begins by complimenting them.
- He is satisfied about them. They are full of goodness.
- They are filled with knowledge.
- They are able to instruct each other.
- It could be that the knowledge he has in mind is knowledge about what food and drink they are permitted to eat and drink. It could be he means that they have knowledge about their freedom in Christ.
- Now, look at verses 15-16, Romans 15:15-16: 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.
- Paul is coming back to his purpose.
- Verses 15–16 provide the closest thing Paul gives for a purpose statement for this epistle.
- But… he is inserting a contrast here. He was very satisfied in them, they are full of goodness, but on some points he needed to write boldly.
- He needed to remind them of the grace he was given from God, or “by God.”
- The grace was to be a minister of Christ Jesus… Who is he to be a minister of? Christ Jesus. To be a minister means to be a servant, or an ambassador. Who does he represent? He represents Christ Jesus.
- Who does he represent Christ Jesus to? The gentiles. This means the nations, this means non-Jewish people groups.
- What else? He is in the priestly service of the gospel of God…What did a priest do? A priest gives sacrifices on behalf of the people. What did Paul do? Paul told them about Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of the people. But what else? It looks like he was offering the gentiles. See the rest of verse 16.
- So that the offering of the gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. To be sanctified means to be set apart for a purpose.
- It seems like Paul wants to reach the gentiles with the Gospel and present them back to the Lord sanctified, that is, set apart by the Holy Spirit.
- In Acts 9:15 God says that Paul is a chosen instrument of His for the gentiles and in Romans 11:13 he calls himself an apostle to the gentiles.
- Look at verse 17, Romans 15:17: In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.
- He can he be proud, but only in Christ Jesus, he can be proud of his work for God. What is his work? Reaching the gentiles with the Gospel.
- Are we proud of our work for God?
- Now look at verse 18, Romans 15:18: 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…
- So, look, Paul will only talk about what Christ has accomplished through him as it related to gentiles coming to obedience to Christ.
- Paul will expand on this in the next verse, but this verse is about how Paul’s words and actions brought the gentiles to faith.
- Do we care that our words and actions bring people to salvation?
- Are we able to restrain ourselves to only speaking about what Christ does through us?
- Now, Paul is building up to a powerful conclusion which we will see in verses 20-21, but first Paul mentions miracles.
- Paul’s miracles and mission field (verse 19).
- Let’s read verse 19, Romans 15:19: 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…
- Verse 19 is continuing about how God has worked through Paul to reach the gentiles with the gospel.
- What this verse makes clear is that Paul did perform miracles, or, better said, miracles were performed through Paul. There are of course various accounts of this in places like Acts 13–14, but Paul is notably reticent to talk about such things, probably precisely because it would lead people to focus too much on himself rather than on his Lord. The same sort of considerations may be in play with this matter as in regard to Paul’s reticence to talk about his social status as a Roman citizen. Paul wants the gospel and the gospel work to speak for itself without the usual honor and status conventions coming into play. What Paul adds in v. 19b is that his preaching has “completed” or fulfilled the gospel of Christ. “As the world is permeated by the Gospel, the Gospel itself comes to fulfillment. It is of the essence of the Gospel that it is not just proclaimed but that it fashions an earthly sphere of validity for the lordship of Christ.”19
- God has worked through Paul by word and deed and also by the power of signs and wonder, further by the power of the Spirit of God. What has this accomplished? From Jerusalem and all the way to Illyricum, he has fulfilled the ministry of the Gospel of Christ. These were 2 key cities, Jerusalem was the home base for the Gospel and Illyricum was a Roman Province on the northwest Balkan peninsula, east of the Adriatic Sea, which included modern Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The northern limit of Paul’s ministry.
- The region that roughly corresponds to former Yugoslavia and current northern Albania. In Paul’s day, this area was more commonly known as Dalmatia (2Ti 4:10). Jerusalem to Illyricum covered some 1400 miles.
- The book of Acts does not mention Illyricum explicitly, but Paul probably went there on his third missionary journey after leaving Ephesus (Ac 19) and before arriving in Greece (Ac 20:1–2). It formed the farthest northwest area Paul reached before going to Rome. In keeping with his call as apostle to the Gentiles, Paul sought to evangelize in previously unreached areas (v. 20), and justifies doing so with a citation from Is 52:15 regarding God’s spread of the renown of the Suffering Servant among the nations.
- So, the power of the Holy Spirit has worked through Paul using signs and wonders, miracles, to bring people to salvation.
- Paul’s strategy (verses 20-21).
- Let’s read verses 20-21, 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.”
- I love these 2 verses: Paul had talked about what God had done through him to reach the gentiles and now he concludes.
- “and thus…” Now we see Paul’s goal, his ambition.
- He desires to preach the gospel, but NOT where Christ has already been named.
- Why doesn’t he want to preach where Christ has already been named? He does not want to build on another’s foundation.
- Verse 21 is a quote from Isaiah 52:15.
- Paul sees his ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:15.
- The OT quotation refers primarily to Christ’s second coming, but in its broader application it refers to the process of evangelism that began in Paul’s day and continues throughout church history until Christ returns.
- I remember being a child and hearing my World War II veteran great uncle share a joke. He said a priest came to talk with a parishioner about the hereafter. She was upstairs and he saw nuts on the table. So he decided to help himself to some nuts. She eventually came down and he said, “I hope you don’t mind I helped myself to some nuts.” She commented back, “That’s okay, I already licked the chocolate off of them!”
- The priest in the story was there to talk about eternity. Eternity matters.
- Paul wanted to take the gospel to unreached people.
- On a broad scaled, the millennials are unchurched. Unchurched means they have not been to a church in 5 years.
- Dr. Tennant of Asbury Theological Seminary said that there was a study showing that 7 percent, just 7 percent, of the millennials claim Christ. If that number is less than 5 percent, we are considered an unreached people group in mission standards.
- My unreached people group are for sure this generation. They need Jesus.
- I have heard another statistic that said that 15 percent, just 15 percent, of the millennials are Christians.
- There are many who have an improper understanding of the Gospel. Many think we are saved by works. They need to understand God’s grace. I read about a conversation John MacArthur had with a man dying of cancer. This was 1985. MacArthur said, “You are dying do you know where you are going?” The man said that he was going to Heaven. MacArthur asked how he knew. He said that he was a good person. MacArthur talked to him about God’s standard and grace and the man accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. The man then asked MacArthur to preach his funeral so that he could share that the man accepted Jesus.
- So, an application:
- Let all that you do be about the Gospel.
- You are on the frontlines of the Gospel. Many times we think pastors and missionaries are the only ones on the front lines. This is not true at all. In Acts chapter 8 Stephen had been stoned and the Christians flee (Acts 8:1). Later the church in Antioch forms and grows, but get this, we don’t know who planted the church in Antioch. It was not Paul or an apostle. It was the lay people. Most of the churches in history were started by lay people.
- God has given you a sphere of influence. God has given all of us a sphere of influence. These are people who are in our lives and we are called by God to represent Jesus to them. We are called to share Jesus with them.
Think about how important it is to take the gospel to people.
Dr. Witherington III shares:
Yet there is something especially inspiring about stories like that of Jim Elliot, the missionary who lost his life working with the fierce Auca Indians in South America, giving the last full measure of his devotion by pouring out his life. Shortly before Elliot died, when he was asked about why he kept risking his life with such an inhospitable and seemingly ungrateful and unpromising audience, he said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Recently, one of the Auca tribesmen spoke at an evangelistic event in Florida. After Elliot died, this man was converted to the Christian faith, in part due to the enduring impact of Elliot’s witness. Now there is a significant group of Christians among the Aucas. There is then still truth to Tertullian’s older claim that “the blood of the martyrs is seed for the church.”
19 Käsemann, Romans, p. 394.
 Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 356.
 John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Ro 15:19.
 John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Ro 15:21.
 Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 358.