Free Bible Study Magazine
This Month’s Featured Resource: First Love Discipleship Series – Philippians, By Dr. Tony Keys. Available now for £8.80 from Amazon.co.uk
Paul’s Greatest Ambition and Joy of Proclaiming Christ (1: 12-26)
Here Paul bypasses any personal concerns about his own well-being. He pushes them into the background in order to dwell upon the most important theme there is – the proclamation of the gospel. He views his imprisonment, possible release and even death in the light of this one thing, the proclamation of the gospel.
1. Unexpected Results of Paul’s Imprisonment (1: 12-14)
Paul does not see his imprisonment as the end of his missionary activity but in fact he sees it as fulfilling a God-given desire to preach the gospel in Rome. We find in Acts 19:21 that Paul felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to Rome and preach the gospel. He records this passion in Romans 1: 14-15 where he says, “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also”.
Paul regarded the apostolic calling he had received through Christ as the undertaking of a debt which he must repay by preaching the gospel amongst the Gentiles. His debt is to all, without distinction of language, race or intelligence. The old Latin proverb seems to sum it up best – ‘Homo sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto’ which means, ‘I am a man, and everything human has an interest for me’.
The church has not always followed Paul’s example. In fact from the Dark Ages to the 1700’s, most of the western church in Europe was locked in a very narrow and self-centred gospel. The great missionary movement we have today did not exist 300 years ago: it all started with a young thirty-year-old Baptist minister by the name of William Carey reading an article in England’s first missionary magazine reporting on Moravian missions around the world.
After reading the article, Carey marched into a meeting of senior Baptist ministers and in front of his fellow ministers threw down onto the table copies of the magazine and said, “See what the Moravians have done! Can we not follow their example, and in obedience to our heavenly Master go out into the world and preach the Gospel to the heathen?” Carey proposed that at a future meeting of Baptist pastors they should consider taking concrete steps to reach out to the world’s unreached. A senior pastor curtly told him: “Sit down, young man!” and added, “If God wants to save the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine!” Baptists and most of the western church looked on such efforts prescribed by Carey as human attempts to interfere with God’s sovereignty, similar to Ahio in 2nd Sam 6: 1-9 reaching out to steady the ark on its return from the Philistines. Objections were many… The time was not ripe; the means were not available; distances were too far; the dangers were too great; the Great Commission was only for the first apostles; missions should start at home. However, Carey was not deterred, reading more of the Moravian mission’s efforts, studying maps and cultures of other lands. He felt God called him to India. Gathering a small group of supporters, he set out for India and his remarkable life inspired the start of many new mission societies, with thousands of missionaries from Europe and America following his example to take the gospel into the entire world. William Carey’s most famous sermon is ‘Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God’.
William Carey’s heart, like Paul’s heart, was touched with the spectacle of human sin, misery and helplessness.
In these verses in Romans, we begin to capture Paul’s burden for those without Christ who had never heard the gospel and might die never hearing, having no opportunity to respond to the good news that Jesus died for their sin and came to give them life. The only time Paul felt some relief from this burden was when sharing the gospel. An old story about Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, says that on one occasion he had journeyed into the interior of China and, whilst preaching at one of his meetings, a young Chinese man responded to the gospel and gave his heart to Jesus. Later, Hudson Taylor was talking to the young man, who was overjoyed with finding Christ, yet weeping. Hudson Taylor asked why he was crying and the young man replied, “If only you had come a year ago before my father died, I know my father would have responded to this message of Christ.” As you can imagine, this statement of the young man had a profound effect upon Hudson Taylor’s ministry.
In Romans 1:15 we capture Paul’s resolution, desire and determination to take the gospel into the entire world. Paul expresses this debt further by the words, “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach”. It is a very strong phrase for it expresses yearning and longing to fulfil that
debt but also his preparedness. Paul boldly proclaims, “I am both ready, and committed for the purpose of evangelism”. May God give us men and women like this today!
His imprisonment, as uncomfortable as it was, had in fact destroyed all the barriers that had hindered Paul from coming to Rome. He had arrived at the very hub of the Roman Empire! Paul did not see himself just as a prisoner but as a pioneer blazing a trail for the gospel.
Remember the story of Joseph in Genesis 50:20 when he said to his brother, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”? In Paul’s case, it was for the furtherance of the gospel. The word “furtherance” (V.12) in the Greek is ‘prokope’, which is a word used by the military to mean ‘to cut down in advance’. The thought is of cutting away trees and undergrowth that would hinder the progress of an army. Paul’s imprisonment had done this very thing; it had cut down the trees and undergrowth that had hindered the advancement of the might army of the church. Paul speaks of two immediate results that have taken place because this undergrowth has been removed: the first is that Christ has become known through the “palace guard”, which refers to the private bodyguard of Caesar, and “to all the rest” referring to the pagan world. His imprisonment had advertised the gospel throughout the known world.
Secondly, those Christians who previously had been afraid to speak-up for Christ had now found new courage and boldness and they proclaimed the gospel with a tremendous zeal.
2. Christ is Proclaimed in Spite of Differing Motives (1: 15-18)
There is a humorous story told of three churches, located on different corners of the same intersection, that didn’t get along with each other. One Sunday, each of them opened their meeting with a rousing song service. It was a warm day and all the doors and windows were wide open. One congregation began singing the old hymn, “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?” The strains had barely faded away when the congregation across the street started 2 singing, “No, Not One, No, Not One!” They had scarcely finished when the third church began singing, “Oh, That Will Be Glory for Me.” Competition! Oh, how it undermines the efforts of the church. Paul’s imprisonment stirred-up two classes of people to preach the gospel: The first group were stirred-up by “envy and strife” (V.15 & V: 16). This does not mean that they preached the wrong doctrine but rather it means that they saw Paul’s imprisonment as a heaven-sent opportunity to advance their own self-seeking, selfish ambition upon the church. They saw this as an opportunity to enhance their own prestige and at the same time undermine Paul’s influence upon the churches. Paul describes their methods of undermining his authority as “supposing to add affliction to my chains” (V.16). The word ‘affliction’ in the Greek is ‘friction’, which paints a painful picture of the rubbing of iron chains on a prisoner’s hands and legs by preaching the gospel. These ones were trying to irritate Paul while he was in prison.
When you take a guided tour of the Vatican, your guide will tell you of the ambition, envy and strife that existed between the famous sculptor Michelangelo and the painter Raphael, who were both creating works of art to beautify the Vatican. A bitter spirit of rivalry rose up between them, yet each was supposedly doing his work for the glory of God. Even today this wonderful legacy of Michelangelo and Raphael is tarnished by their rivalry, self-ambition and envy which grate against the listener’s ears. In many ways, the listener’s reaction to the story of these two great artists’ rivalry reflects Paul anguish and disappointment over those who preached the gospel out of rivalry and self-ambition towards him. Not only does it reflect Paul’s anguish but our Lord’s: it must grate against Him like prison chains rubbing on a prisoner’s arm or leg. Rivalry, self- ambition and envy will tarnish any legacy, no matter how wonderful, for the kingdom.
Dr. Tony Keys who comes from Australia, is a prolific author with degrees in biblical/theology, education and leadership/ management.