Finding Your Purpose

Romans 1:8-17

March 19, 2006 | Brian Bill

I read a story in the recent issue of Christianity Today about a high-profile pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who started preaching that there is no such thing as Hell and that everyone will eventually be saved.  In a short period of time, 90 percent of the church’s 5,000 members stopped attending, the bank foreclosed on their 30-acre site in an upscale neighborhood, and their final church service in that building was held on New Year’s Eve.  In an effort to be accommodating to his culture, this pastor essentially.

In short, this pastor forgot his purpose, and so will we if we take our eyes off the Lord and His unfailing Word.  The apostle Paul did not equivocate because he knew exactly what his purpose was.  Please turn to Romans 1:8-17 as we continue our study in the Book of Romans.  Last week we pondered three different perspectives from Paul in the opening verses:

  • Who you are determines what you do
  • Who Jesus is determines the gospel you give
  • What you believe determines how you behave

We’re going to study eight different principles that together define Paul’s purpose.  

1. Become totally thankful (8a). 

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.” Paul developed the attitude of gratitude for the believers in this church, even though he had never even been to Rome.  Notice that this is the first thing he does because thankfulness is the first true mark of Christian maturity.  We see the intimate relationship Paul had with his Lord by the use of the personal pronoun “my” in reference to God.  Because God owned Him, he was able to call God his own.  It’s also interesting that he thanks God for “all” the believers.  Do you thank God for everyone around you?

Paul begins with a compliment to these Christians.  One pastor put it this way: “There’s a very familiar principle at work here: People tend to become what you believe them to be.  If you say to a child, ‘You’re stupid,’ he’ll struggle forever in his classes.  If you tell him that he’s God’s champion, he will tackle any task.”  Paul affirms the Romans and tells them that he is so thankful for them.  Who can you give thanks for today?

2. Give people something to talk about (8b).

“…because your faith is being reported all over the world.”  Rome was the capital and the major city at that time.  Because of how these Christians were living, their faith was the focus of conversations everywhere.  Perhaps they went something like this: “Have you heard how strong their faith is, even though they are living in such a pagan environment?”  The word “reported” means to announce or proclaim something openly and loudly and is in the present tense, meaning that it was happening continuously.  This picture is painted by Paul again in Colossians 1:6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing…”

What do people say about you when they talk behind your back?  Do they comment on your critical spirit?  Do they wonder why you whine so much?  Do they attest to your anger?  Do people give you the name gossiper?  Or, do they focus on your faith?  I often wonder what our community thinks of our church.  When I’m really brave I ask individuals what they think of this church .  I long for the day when the majority of those who talk about us would loudly proclaim, “That’s a church filled with faithful people so touched by God’s grace that they live out their faith in practical ways.”

It’s incredible how easy it is today for the gospel message to spread around the world through our multimedia ministry.  About a week ago I received an email from a pastor in Brazil asking for permission to translate one of our sermon series.  I immediately said “sure” and also sent him our PowerPoint templates.  I’m glad he didn’t ask me to translate these sermons.  Our faith is being reported all over the world.

3. Serve Christ wholeheartedly (9). 

“God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son…”  The word “serve” that Paul uses here is always used of religious service and is sometimes translated as worship.  Whatever Paul was doing, he was worshipping the Lord.  The greatest worship we can offer to God is to serve Him unreservedly, without holding back anything.  For Paul, his worship was an act of service and his service was an act of worship.

One thing you notice pretty quickly by reading Paul’s letters is that he was totally sold out to the Savior.  He served God with his whole heart.  In the recent Barna Update (3/6/06), researchers reveal that most Americans consider themselves to be not merely “religious,” but “deeply spiritual.”  Unfortunately, while most of us think we’re highly spiritual, our behaviors often betray what we say we believe.  For instance, among the 59% who refer to themselves as “a full-time servant of God,” a mere one-quarter placed faith as their highest priority.  

Barna points out that there is a significant disconnect between how people perceive their commitment and their reticence to make faith their top priority: “Spirituality is in vogue in our society today.  It is popular to claim to…have a spiritual commitment…The recent Grammy awards were perhaps indicative of this breakdown between self-perception and reality.  The members of the group that won the award for best song thanked God for the victory then immediately followed with profanities that had to be bleeped from the broadcast.  It seems as if God is in, but living for God is not.  Many Americans are living a dual life – one filled with good feelings about God and faith, corroborated by some simple religious practices, and another in which they are in control of their own destiny and operate apart from Him.” 

Paul was whole-hearted, not half-hearted.  For those of us who have been believers for awhile, we have to guard ourselves so we don’t end up like Solomon did as we read in 1 Kings 11:4: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God…”

It’s time to surrender wholly so we can serve wholeheartedly

If you were to read through the entire Bible, you could summarize what God wants in a couple of words.  He wants your whole life.  God doesn’t want half of you, He doesn’t want most of you…He wants all of you.   Have you settled into a comfortable, casual Christianity?  If you were to put a percentage on the depth of your devotion, what number would you give yourself?  Are you 50% faithful?  75% committed?  95%?  What about you?  Does God have all of you?   I like how the New Living Translation renders Romans 6:13: “Give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life.  And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.”   C.S. Lewis once said, “The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.”   It’s time to surrender wholly so we can serve wholeheartedly.

4. Persevere in your prayers (10).

“…Is my witness how constantly I remember you.  In my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” He constantly remembers them, which means he doesn’t take a break.  The word means to “not take an intermission.”  He was incessant in his intercession for them.  Notice that one of his requests was for a way to be opened for him to visit them.  Don’t miss the key phrase that must punctuate every one of our prayers: “by God’s will.”  He wanted to go to Rome really bad but he wanted God’s will even more.  That’s a good corrective for us.  We should pray hard and long but never lose sight that what really matters is what God wants for us.

I really like what Ray Pritchard says in this regard: “Prayer also bridges the gap between people. You can be here…and they can be way over there, and through prayer you can bridge the gap that separates you.  Prayer spans the miles that separate us. Prayer overcomes the misunderstanding that separates us.  Prayer leaps across the bad memories that pull us apart. Prayer nullifies the estrangement that keeps us from speaking.  There can be bitterness and anger between you, even years of alienation.  But that doesn’t matter when you pray because prayer bridges the gap between you and those you love.  Your heart can touch their heart by the simple act of praying.” 

Do you pray for people without giving up?  Part of our purpose is to persevere in our praying.  To not pray according to 1 Samuel 12:23 is tantamount to sinning against people: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.”  

5. Develop a mutual ministry (11-12). 

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong- that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”   The word “long” means to yearn for someone.  When Paul thought of the Romans his heart literally ached.  We know that he knew some of the people in Rome like Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2, 18-19; Romans 16:3), but notice that what he was most pumped about was to help make them stronger and more encouraged.  In fact, when Paul saw that they were strengthened in their faith, he was encouraged in his own.  It reminds me of the story of William Carey when he was about to board a ship to India to begin missionary service there.  Some of his friends asked if he really wanted to go through with his plans.  Expressing his great desire for their support in prayer, he replied, “I will go down into the pit itself, if you will hold the rope.”

Let’s admit something today.  We all need encouragement.  I need it and you need it.  And, as we minister in tandem, God is honored, people are served, and we end up being encouraged.  Don’t you love hearing stories of God at work?  After hearing about how God is using our website, one member of the multimedia team emailed me this week and said: “Thanks for the encouragement.  I think it helps to keep our souls energized to hear stories like that … at least it does mine.”  God energizes us through encouragement.  Who can you encourage today?

6. Allow your plans to be interrupted (13). 

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”   Some people probably wondered why Paul had not yet come to Rome.  He wants them to know that it’s not because he hadn’t prayed and hadn’t planned to do so.  God had not yet made a way.  According to Acts 19:21, his plans were to go to Rome, but it didn’t work out.  He returns to this idea in Romans 15:23: “I have been longing for many years to see you…”  Again, his reason for wanting to go to Rome was to take part in God’s harvest.  His ministry was an unending quest to gather the fruit of changed lives.  

Most commentators believe Paul was in Corinth when he wrote this letter to the Romans.  It’s interesting that Paul eventually does make it to Rome but not in the way he had planned for he ended up as a prisoner in a Roman jail.  Paul recognized that this was God’s plan for him and was able to say in Philippians 1:13: “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”

When God interrupts our plans it’s so His purposes can prevail

Friend, how do you handle interrupted plans?  I don’t score very high on this one.  Let’s remember the truth of Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”  When God interrupts our plans it’s so His purposes can prevail.  We need to be OK with that.  Are you?

7. Live out your obligation to Christ (14-15). 

“I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.”  Paul felt he was morally obligated to get the message out to everyone.  His one consuming passion was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, to all people, irregardless of their cultural, educational, or religious background.  We see this in 1 Corinthians 9:16-17: “…for I am compelled to preach.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  Paul is eager to preach, which means that he is ready, willing, and able.  His number one aim was to do God’s work.  Period.  There was nothing more.  

What is it that you are eager to do?  What do you long for?  What are you living for?  The answers to these questions will tell you more than you may want to know.  Only God’s Word and people last forever so make sure you are investing your life in that which will last for eternity.

8. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel (16-17). 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” These are some of the most life-transforming truths ever written.  They not only serve as the theme and thesis for the rest of Romans but also concisely summarize the gospel message and our mandate to share it with the world.

The word “ashamed” can have two meanings in the Greek.  One means to become “red-faced,” and the other refers to being disappointed.  My eyes were opened this week to the shame Paul must have felt when he looked back on what his life was like before coming to Christ.  Listen to these words from Dr. Jo Ann Nishimoto, a therapist at Minirth-Meier in Wheaton: “Paul had led a crusade to kill…he must have felt unworthy of grace…I think he must have struggled with intense self-loathing…he faced a dilemma: would he deeply embrace God’s truth of forgiveness and redemption?  Although the Bible doesn’t give us the details, can’t you just imagine the inner pain he felt the first time he passed the spot where he’d so gladly condoned Stephen’s stoning?  I would imagine that Paul cast his eyes to the ground and bit his lip in sorrow.  He may have ducked into an alley to weep.  After laying down that night, the image of Stephen’s glowing face intruded on his attempts to sleep…Paul eventually resolved his guilt and shame by freeing himself to see himself as God saw him…forgiven…clean.  It probably came to him the same way it comes to us.  Slowly.  In fits and starts…while we might have some fear of the way others may see us, the most important thing is to embrace the way God sees us…In the end we must give God, and not others, the right to define us.

That’s why Paul could say in Romans 10:11: “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Once we come to Christ we have no reason to be ashamed and we will have no valid reason to ever be disappointed by God as Isaiah 49:23 states: “Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”  In Romans 1:16-17, Paul lists four reasons why he is not ashamed.

  • We are not ashamed because the gospel is all-powerful.  The word powerful here is the root from which we get “dynamic,” “dynamo,” and “dynamite.”  Notice that the gospel doesn’t bring power or point to power; it actually is the power of God because it is powerful enough to accomplish God’s purpose in saving us from our sins.

A few years ago a vacuum cleaner salesman knocked on the door of a farmhouse.  No sooner had the lady opened the door, when the salesman ran in and started talking about the vacuum he was trying to sell.  He made his way to the living room, talking all the time so she couldn’t interrupt him.  He told her that the vacuum would suck up everything in the house, that it was so powerful that you had to be careful with it.  She tried to speak to no avail.  Then he said he wanted to show her how powerful it was so he dumped a huge pile of dirt and ashes in the middle of the floor.  She tried to stop him but before she could say anything, he said, “Mam, if this vacuum doesn’t suck this up in two minutes I’ll eat it with a spoon.”  She finally got an opportunity to speak and said, “Well, you better start eating because we ain’t got no electricity.”  Many of us are not plugged into God’s power and are therefore not experiencing the explosive dynamite of the gospel message in our lives.

Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 22:29: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  When the gospel is grasped, God’s power is unleashed with electricity and excitement.  1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

  • We are not ashamed because the gospel is for every person.  Whether someone was Greek in their heritage or a mixture of Irish and Polish like me, the gospel is for everyone.  We shouldn’t be intimidated by the smart and powerful, nor should we look down on those who are not cultured and refined.  Every person should have the opportunity to experience the power of God’s gospel.  That’s one of the reasons we support as many missionaries as we do and why we’re looking for some more who are headed to the most unreached places in the world.
  • We are not ashamed because the gospel reveals God’s righteousness.   Let’s think for a moment about three theological words that represent doctrinal truth from the Book of Romans.  I’ll quickly introduce them because we’ll tackle them in greater depth later in our series.
  • Justification.  You and are delivered from the penalty of sin.  We are no longer held guilty but are acquitted of our crimes against a holy God.  Those who are profoundly unrighteous are pronounced righteous; we are justified because of what Christ has done on the cross.  Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Our guilt and rebellion is taken away and we’re given grace and righteousness.
  • Sanctification.  This word means that we are delivered from the power of sin.  While sin is not totally eradicated from our lives, we no longer have to live in bondage to it.  As the Holy Spirit works in our lives in tandem with His Word as we read and study, we are becoming more and more like Jesus.  Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” 
  • Glorification.  Not only are believers set free from the penalty and power of sin, we will eventually be delivered from the presence of sin when we leave this earth and spend eternity with Christ.  God will finish the work He began when He justified us.  Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
  • We are not ashamed because the gospel is received by faith alone.  The word “believe” literally means to “lean upon.”  This was the cry of the Reformation: Sola Fide, by faith alone.  Martin Luther took his stand on this very verse when he declared: “Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning…I cannot and I will not retract, for it unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.”  Then looking around at those who held his life in their hands, Luther said: “Here I stand.  I can do no other.  May God help me.  Amen.”  

Later in life, Luther referred to Romans 1:17 as the “chief article from which all our other doctrines have flowed…if the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time” (From D’Aubigne, “The Life and Times of Martin Luther,” 423-434).  Faith must involve the mind, the heart, and most importantly, the will.  We must move from knowledge about the gospel, to feelings about the gospel to a commitment to the gospel.  Paul was able to refer to God as “my God” in verse 8.  Is He your God?  Have you received His righteousness by faith?  Remember this: Salvation is not something we achieve but something we receive when we believe!

This past week I finished reading Night by Ellie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and author of over 30 books dealing with Judaism and the Holocaust.  I was stunned and deeply saddened by what I read.  Of all the things he says in his book, I was most moved by this statement: “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”  We must never forget what happened during the Holocaust and we must also remember that there’s an even worse Holocaust coming called Hell for those who do not put their faith and trust in Jesus.  We can’t ignore this doctrine nor can we stop speaking about our Savior.  We cannot remain silent any longer and our indifference must be replaced with repentance and a recommitment to share the good news of the gospel with everyone we know.  

Why are we ashamed at times?  What are we so afraid of?  Rejection?  Isolation?   Luke 9:26: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”  It’s no small thing to shrink back from the Savior.  It’s time for us to step it up as Paul did in 2 Timothy 1:12: “That is why I am suffering as I am.  Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”

Let’s determine to put into practice what we know to be true.  Are you willing to make the following commitment? “I will prayerfully select someone to befriend, pray for, look for ways to serve, and trust God for natural opportunities to share the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

PrayerBegin praying every day for this person.  Pray for their health, safety, relationships, and for their spiritual interest to grow.  Pray for God-ordained appointments to build a friendship.

CareLook for ways to respond to practical needs.  Listen for what he or she longs for and try to meet that need.  Bake a meal.  Mow a lawn.  Send a card.  Do whatever God prompts you to do.

ShareWhen God gives the opportunity, boldly proclaim who Jesus is and what He’s done in your life.  Here’s an idea: Just start talking and let God give you the words to say.  Sometimes we don’t say anything because we don’t know what to say.  Just say something and God will do the rest.  One day when the disciples were worried about what they would say if they were arrested for their faith, Jesus made this statement that has direct application to us when we are nervous about speaking up for Christ in Mark 13:11: “…Do not worry beforehand about what to say.   Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” 

But before we’ll put any of this into practice, we must first settle our purpose:

  • Become totally thankful
  • Give people something to talk about
  • Serve Christ wholeheartedly
  • Persevere in your prayers
  • Develop a mutual ministry 
  • Allow your plans to be interrupted
  • Live out your obligation to Christ
  • Don’t be ashamed of the gospel

One of my favorite preachers, who ministered more than a century ago, is Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  He did not equivocate on the doctrine of Hell or lose his passion for preaching Christ.  I close with his words: “The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you.  If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest too.  But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy too.  I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’  Then you will have converts.” 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?