First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:8-15 ESV
There is only one mediator –
Before we dig into this whole concept of thanking God we need to take Paul’s example in this sentence and not only know it, but believe it and live it out. Paul clearly emphasizes in this verse that he thanks God through Jesus Christ. We quickly and flippantly in our lives spew out words and go about our day as if we commune directly with the God of the trinity. We need to be honest with ourselves and mature our Christian walk in the biblical practice: Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and humans. We can’t commune with God without Jesus. Through Jesus, God sends his love and forgiveness to us. It is also through Jesus that we send our thanks to God.
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus – 1 Timothy 2:5
It is easy for me to grasp the idea that when Jesus ascended to heaven he sent the third part of the trinity to be my helper, the Holy Spirit. Jesus even says that the Holy Spirit has more power than himself and I can just rejoice and run full steam ahead into the great relationship with God, but many times my words and actions are not biblical. I cry out to God for help, I openly pray directly to God and just take Jesus for granted. I know sublimely that Jesus is part of the trinity and when I say thank you God, it is given that it includes Jesus. I have to take warning and I encourage you to take some time to monitor your own behavior about who you communicate with. When you pray aloud, do you acknowledge Jesus is the one you get to communicate through? Here is the difficult question.
Do you realize that if Jesus was not available to you, you could not communicate with God? He is the only means you have with connecting with God.
I just want to challenge you to pay attention, and not take for granted the life giving connection you have. Don’t get all arrogant thinking you talk directly to God the father.
Do we thank God enough?
There are many times during each day where I want to express my gratitude and thank people for actions they have done, which is a good thing. But am I overlooking a very crucial and important dialog? Do I think, let alone give credit to, the one that allowed the action to even take place. Do I fully grasp the blessings that I receive? In America, we actually live in a very civilized culture and we tend to take it for granted. Most of the time we just expect people to be considerate, friendly and when they are not, be judge them. We really begin to feel like we are entitled to be treated right in this broken world.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. – Romans 1:11-12
Paul’s sentence here seems to be a bit on the arrogant side. He states that he has an abundance of spiritual gifts that he was going to give them something they didn’t already have. We have probably all been faced with men such as this, but then Paul concludes the sentence by stating it was going to be a mutual experience.
Have you ever been in a situation where you volunteer or serve and you end up getting more spiritually blessed than the energy you invested? It may be serving on Sunday mornings, it may be in community events. Paul was just like us. He knew that he was going to get encouraged by them.
Does anybody have an example where they get more blessings by serving than receiving?
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. – Romans 1:14
The various translations use the term obligation, some use debtor.
What is a debtor?
How do you get into debt?
If you have debt, you are obligated to pay it.
What is Paul going to do to be freed of his debt?
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:15
This is a great example of where just taking a verse out of context does not give the reader the full intentions of the writer. If you just read that verse or someone just said that verse, it would sound like they were encouraged to preach or teach. But let’s be aware, the 15th verse starts out with “So” or in other translations “That is why”, which means that it is connected to the previous verse. The Aramaic Bible in Plain English has a nice clear translation of the verse:
Greeks and Barbarians, wise and ignorant, for I owe a debt to preach to every person. – Romans 1:14 Aramaic Bible in Plain English
We can learn a lot about our daily obligations and motivations if we understand this verse in depth. Because really most of us want to say, “oh that is Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, that does not pertain to us”. To support that theory, in verses 1 and 5 it indicates that Paul is called by God to do this preaching thing. So Paul is told to do it by God, he is obligated to God.
But what Paul stresses about his calling is not that it is a command from God. Read verse 5 again…
“we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith.”
Did you notice who Paul says he is debt to, in verse 14? Surprisingly, it is not God. He indicates that he is in debt to Greeks and Barbarians, essentially all people.
Usually we get into debt because someone has loaned us something. But the Greeks and Barbarians have not loaned Paul anything. The situation is not that the nations have loaned Paul anything to be paid back. The situation is that God has freely given Paul something, namely, grace (verse 5: “we received grace”) – both the grace of salvation and the grace of apostleship. But we must not jump to conclusions, when you receive grace from God, you don’t become a debtor to God.
Grace cannot and must not be paid back as a debt. Otherwise grace would no longer be grace. If someone gives you a free gift and you try to pay them for it, you turn it into a merited purchase, not a free gift. So grace does not create debt in this sense.
In fact, the best thing about grace is that it pays debts. We are debtors to God. Check out Matthew 6:12 in the Lord’s Prayer.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12
How does God forgive us of our debts? By His grace. God’s grace forgives debts.
There is another aspect as well. How else can someone be in debited to someone?
When you steal something or wrong someone, such as your parents or spouse, don’t you feel that conviction of obligation. We go around thinking we will make it up to them. Hence, pay the debt.
Debit – obtaining something that you could not have on your own. Either you have someone else purchase it for you and promise to pay them for their favor, or you steal it. Either way, you get what you could not have on your own.
We are debtors to God not because he has given us grace, but because we have stolen his glory.
Stealing also makes us a debtor. Instead of seeing the glory of God as a treasure to enjoy, we exchanged it for other things that we really like better.
instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols – Romans 1:23 NLT
So theoretically we stole grace from God. That is the essence of sin. And that is the kind of debt we have toward God.
So when grace comes to us from God in the gospel, it comes to pay our debts that we have to him. Grace does not make you a debtor to God; but it does make you a debtor to others who need grace just as you did. That is what Paul focuses on here in verse 14. “I received grace and apostleship” (verse 5). So now I am a debtor to Greeks and barbarians. And what I owe them is the gospel of grace. That’s my debt.
The Debt We Owe is the Gospel of Grace
Why is that? Answer: When you hear good news about how to escape from a common misery, you become a debtor to tell the good news to others so they can escape the misery too. You owe it to them.
Example: you are driving down the road and come up on a bad stretch of road and there is a dangerous accident there with the bridge out. You make it through the sitution, barely. You begin heading down the road and then you remember that your spouse is behind you about 3 miles and is heading right to the exact mess. What is your feeling? You have that conviction to let her know. To warn her. You have that conviction of obligation, a debt.
We even do that kind of obligation when we know there is a speed trap or bad traffic.
Relating back to Paul’s scripture. Why do we owe telling people about the gospel?
Because if you withhold the good news of grace from others, as if you were qualified for it, and they were not, then you show that you have never known grace. The grace of God which calls us (verse 6) out of our darkness and bestows eternal covenant-love on us (verse 7) creates what it commands. We don’t qualify for it beforehand.
So, in other words, if you hold this grace back from others as if you are qualified and they are not, you default on your debt to the world and prove that you have not really known grace. Grace is precious beyond words. It is our only hope as sinners. We don’t deserve it from God. And no one can deserve it from us. When it comes to us freely, we are debtors to give freely.
Does that sound familiar?
You received without paying; give without pay. – Matthew 10:8
That’s one reason why Paul stresses his debt, in verse 14, “both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Culture and intelligence and education do not qualify you for the gospel of grace. And being unrefined and uneducated and illiterate do not disqualify anybody for the gospel of grace. There are no qualifications for this grace.
I have to frequently remind myself that when I volunteer or come into contact with people that are walking far from God, that I don’t deserve God’s grace anymore than they do. It is hard when I am at the park talking and praying with a person that is drunk and strung out, I tend to get worldly and have an attitude that they need to straighten up and be in a condition to accept God’s grace. That is wrong! I don’t deserve God’s grace anymore than that drunk or addict.
Nobody Qualifies for Grace
Paul is not a debtor to anybody because they qualify. Nobody qualifies for grace. For then grace would not be grace. Paul is a debtor to Greek and barbarian precisely because he didn’t qualify either, yet grace came to him -and it keeps on coming to him day after day in endless waves of future grace breaking over his life
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV
So there is no one who is any less or more deserving than he. And that makes him a debtor to all.
Wouldn’t it be great to be engulfed in the reality of radically free grace in our lives? Past and future! What a difference it would make! Try to remember this today, this week. Think what it means about racism, ethnic slurs, and all kinds of self-righteousness, demandingness in relationships. Ponder what it means about how freely you share the gospel of grace. Allow the Holy Spirit to open our hearts more and more to feel the wonder of being called of Christ and loved of God (forever!)- not because he found something special in us, but because this grace is utterly and absolutely free.
Now let’s pause for a moment. What have I been doing here this morning?
I just took the gospel of grace – the good news that because of Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners and his resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), free grace breaks on us with wave after wave and I applied it to you with the conviction that if you get it, really get it, if you believe it, if you have faith in it, if you cherish this grace and live on this grace, it will make an ever-greater difference in your life in areas like racism and pride and self-righteousness and marriage.
To put it in a word, I just shared the gospel of grace with you. I “shared my faith”. And my aim in this was impart the “obedience of faith” – the humility and kindness and courage and patience and love that come from faith in God’s grace. Now why is that important to notice?
Check out the scripture again….
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:14-15 ESV
Do those verses make more sense now? Do the verses actually sound familiar? Paul was actually responding to the great commission we learned when going through Multiply.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inb 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. – Matthew 28:19-20
Before we leave this verse, I have an something to ask you. Who were these Romans Paul was writing to? Do you remember from last week when we went over the introduction to Romans? They were believers. The church had been established and operational for about 25 years.
When was the last time you heard someone say that they were going to preach the gospel to believers? Usually it is used in context such as, “going to go share my faith” and “preach the gospel”. But that tends to be used in a context to go save people. Not share the gospel with believers.
Paul’s purpose, according to verse 5, is to bring about the obedience of faith among gentiles. How does this obedience come about? It comes about through faith – faith in the free grace of God through Christ. That’s why it is called the “obedience of faith.” But how does that kind of faith come about? It comes about through the gospel.
Maybe that is to deep to understand. How about this. Do you think you need to hear the gospel after you have made the commitment to Christ? Check this verse out:
So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. – Romans 10:17 HCSB
Do you realize you gain your faith by hearing the Good News? Do you see a correlation between your walk and your time spent in the Word?
Our faith begins with the gospel of grace, and our Christian lives are sustained by this same good news of grace over and over again.
Hopefully now we can better understand the command to go make disciples and how to teach them to have obedience in faith. Our love and appreciation of the grace received from God inspires us to share the good news (gospel) with everyone. We do not restrain our enthusiasm for the gospel when we are around believers.
This week think about your obligation (debt) to share the gospel. Not only to convert or save people, but also the build up believers and spur them on to more faith.