Romans 11:13&14 “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”
Abraham had been promised a deliverer, A man who’d be amongst Abraham’s descendants, and he would be a blessing to the whole world. All the Jews knew this and were waiting and watching for his appearance. Christians believe that that Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth, the one who fulfils the multitude of prophecies made about the promised one. Yet the vast majority of the Jews despised and rejected the Lord Jesus as the Christ, arranged his death, and then persecuted any of their fellow countrymen who became Christians. What was happening? At this juncture in his letter to the Romans Paul decided to focus what he was saying particularly on one major part of the congregation, the Gentiles, in other words, on us. They needed help in this matter of why the Jews had rejected the Lord so totally and what the repercussions were going to be of this rejection. So in our text Paul is speaking particularly to them, and he tells them so. He wants them to prick up their ears and listen. “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles” (v.13). You know how a teacher would catch you talking in class and would address you, “Hello! I am talking to you. I am the teacher not you. Pay attention!”
PAUL IS OUR APOSTLE.
i] Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, as he claims here: “I am the apostle to the Gentiles” (v.13), and we are all Gentiles here. Though there were eleven or twelve apostles who were not apostles to the Gentiles we hardly know anything about the lives and ministries of most of them. Many of them are utterly anonymous. They are symbolically important, and corporately important, but they are not individually important, but Paul was individually sanctified, set apart for his special ministry. So Paul does not have to act with twelve times the energy of the other apostles to compensate for the fact that he is just one, although how he laboured. He tells the Corinthians, “I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (I Cor. 15.10). He achieved far more than Peter and John and the others put together. Thirteen of the books of the New Testament were written by Paul, the one who is our apostle, the apostle to the Gentiles.
Now when you read the book of Acts you discover that the mission to the Gentiles actually didn’t start under the leadership of Paul. God had made Paul’s calling very clear. God had revealed his Son in Paul that he might preach him among the Gentiles. This was going to be his vocation. So you might think that everything would be planned and organized by the early church along those lines. You know how the church today would have done all this? It would probably have had a big ‘council’ or ‘General Assembly’ and one day there would be a ‘seminar’ where the famous convert Paul would be introduced. He would then describe to the ‘delegates’ all that would be involved in ‘outreach to the Gentiles.’ A few Roman centurions would give their testimonies. There would be a slogan devised by a marketing organization which read something like “Each One Win One Gentile – and Every One a Tither,” and there would be a committee, and advertising and ‘fund-raising.’ There would be a summer programme of part time youth work reaching overseas Gentiles. There were special Sundays designated Gentile Mission Sundays with gift envelopes for the work. The dates and places of the outreach in various Gentile communities would be announced, and prayer letters would soon be flowing from Mediterranean countries to Jerusalem as “Gentile Spring 35” would be launched. It would all be organised in tedious detail and pressure brought to bear on everyone to toe the line or get the vision or turn on and tune in.
That is how the church does it today. You might well ask, “Where would be the Holy Spirit in all of that?” It was certainly not like that in the year 35. I will tell you what happened. God made a Christian soldier called Cornelius (who had never met one apostle) know that he had to approach not Paul but Peter, and invite him to speak at a meeting that he had to organize in his own home. Then God worked independently in Peter’s life and showed him a vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven containing all kinds of animals, clean and unclean. Peter was told to take animals from them and kill and eat them. Then he was to go to the house of a Gentile called Cornelius and preach to everyone in his home. Then as Peter reluctantly did all of that and began to preach to them, God the Holy Spirit came on all those Gentiles hearing the message. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah and they were baptized. Peter stayed there for a little while teaching them.
Peter then went to the church in Jerusalem and told them what had happened. “Gentile outreach has begun; God is working and saving Gentiles.” Then the church in Antioch got involved and one of their leaders Barnabas saw what was happening. So he went to Tarsus and that is where Paul was approached and drawn in and got involved in his lifetime’s work. Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch and for a year the two of them preached and taught and prayed and debated and evangelized great numbers of people including many Gentiles, and it was there in Antioch that these new converts to Jesus Christ were first called Christians.
There was no denominational programme and mission board set up, and no para-church structures and fund-raising and advertising. Nothing like that. Trust in God, the God who is in control; do what God says. He was opening doors and kick-starting the whole of the work amongst Gentiles at his time with the men he had gifted and blessed. God was providing what this work that was honouring his Son needed. Then Paul was drawn into it and increasingly his leadership and theological depth and pastor’s heart and his preaching gifts became evident to all. It became clearer and clearer to Paul that his mission in life was “to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephs.3:8). I think it is always like that. God constantly does a new thing. God bypasses our careful plans and organizational skills. He opens new doors and intervenes in the lives of churches and people. “I will build my church,” says the head of the church, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” What exiting and wonderful things lie before our congregation in the next five years . . . and many testings for us all! What new work will God do? Perhaps I will live to see some of them.
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and yet you know that Paul never forgot he was a Jew and God never diluted that conviction in his mind or ministry. When he arrived in a new town he asked people, “Where is the nearest synagogue,” and inevitably that’s where he began his evangelism. In the book of Acts there are only two message that are directed by Paul at a Gentile congregation, in Lystra to the country folk there and then to the cultured philosophers in Athens. All the other sermons are focused on Jews. So Paul, the one who is our own apostle, the one given responsibility for evangelizing and pastoring us was never negligent of reaching Jews with the gospel. He was the brilliant justifier of the Christian response to this situation of Jewish opposition to the gospel, to explain it to the Gentiles in the Roman congregation. But there is something else important . . .
ii] Paul was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was commissioned by Jesus Christ and he spoke with the authority of the Son of God. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gals. 1:6&7). Jesus could say to him, “If they are hearing you then they are also hearing me.” You could not put a sheet of India paper between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul. And none of the other apostles challenged this fact at all. There was just one great and significant difference, and that was in the spheres in which each of them worked. The posture of Jesus was this that he was looking ahead to his death and resurrection, while the posture of Paul was that he was looking back to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Let’s say that they were both looking toward the same mountain range but Jesus saw it as something looming up before him, while was Paul already standing on it and on its first slopes that are already behind him. Paul was looking back to the finished work of the hill of Golgotha and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, while the Lord Jesus was looking at the cup he had to drink and the anathema on Calvary. So there was perplexity in Rome about Jewish national rejection of Jesus Christ and the persecution of Jewish believers. This problem is actually going to be dealt with by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, but he will deal with it through his apostle Paul. So please pay the greatest respect to this eleventh chapter of Romans because it is God who is speaking to us. But Paul goes a step further . . .
PAUL MAKES MUCH OF HIS MINISTRY.
Paul has to do that elsewhere in different ways and other letters. He was under attack for his teaching. He had many enemies, and they would disdain and claim that he was not a real apostle at all. He wasn’t one of the Twelve who had all been with Jesus since John the Baptist baptized Jesus. He hadn’t been one of those who had seen Jesus risen from the dead and ascending into heaven. And so Paul was often under pressure to defend his authority for his ministry. This was especially so in Corinth where a number of men masqueraded as the real apostles of Christ and attacked Paul. Paul refers to them ironically as ‘super-apostles.’ It is in chapters 11 and 12 that Paul has to defend himself against them, but so reluctantly.
Paul begins his self-defence in this tone of voice, “I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness . . .” (2 Cors.11:1). He felt he had to do it, but he hated doing it and considered it folly because the God who had made him an apostle would vindicate him. Then Paul comes to present his credentials for ministry, and it is an extraordinary array of his sufferings that he brings to our attention. Then Paul tells them of his experience of God’s nearness, God having once drawn him up to the third heaven where he saw sights and heard words that were unrepeatable and immediately more sufferings, a troublesome thorn in the flesh that would not go away but by which he learned the sufficiency of God’s grace in all circumstances. What an extraordinary way to magnify his ministry, to tell us of all he suffered through his preaching by the hands of man, and for the way in which the hand of God also brought him low.
Now you say to me, “What does such a defence of his ministry as we find in those words to the Corinthians have to do with his words here to the church in Rome that he will always make much of his ministry?” I will tell you, for it is transparently clear and important. What Paul did in writing to the Gentile church in Corinth is identical with what he is doing here in writing to the Gentile church in Rome. He is showing both those Christian congregations in Italy and Greece that he was a man who gave himself to his ministry wholly and unreservedly. He says elsewhere, “This one thing I do” Whatever the cost. He was utterly single-minded in his life, and he fulfilled his ministry with all his might and devotion. That is how he gloried in his ministry; nothing would sidetrack him from it. He hoped to achieve everything that was true and noble and lasting by a consistent Christ-centred ministry, preaching about Christ, teaching about Christ, writing about Christ, praying to Christ, and debating concerning the claims of Christ.
It is not going to be long in this letter to the Romans before he returns to this theme again. Let me give you one more verse in chapter fifteen and verses 17 through 19; “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” What a challenge it is for any minister. The proof of our ministry is not the college degrees we have, or that we are accredited by some denomination committee centred in Cardiff or London, and that we have our name on a list of preachers, or that you have been in a congregation for a number of years and are well liked. That is not what the ministry is about. What has Christ accomplished through you in leading your fellow countrymen to obey God by what you’ve said and done, through the power of the Spirit? Has Christ attained anything through you? Are there men and women obeying God through hearing you? That is the only way to magnify a ministry, and how humbling and soul-searching that is.
CHRISTIANS AIM AT AROUSING UNBELIEVERS TO ENVY.
What was one of the goals of Paul’s ministry? You can imagine many answers to that question. “My goal is to vindicate the truth of God. My goal is to preach the gospel where it has never been preached before. My goal is to pluck brands from the burning. My goal is to establish happy marriages and children growing in the nurture and knowledge of the Lord. My goal is planting a gospel church in every major city in Greece. My goal is to go west, right to the other end of the Mediterranean and preach Christ in Spain.” All those would be great goals for anyone’s ministry and little wonder Paul devoted himself to fulfil them with such energy and perseverance. Here he tells us of another unusual goal. It is the hope that somehow he may arouse his fellow countrymen (the Jews) to envy all that is Christ and envy all that people possess who are in Christ. This is a remarkable statement on a number of counts:
i] First, it is remarkable because it sounds as if Paul is stimulating something unworthy – envy, ‘green eyes,’ jealousy. Is that a right thing to do, to encourage Jews in particular, but all races of mankind, to come to Christ by arousing their ‘envy’? The poet calls it ‘Base envy that withers at another’s joy, and hates that excellence it cannot reach.’ T.S.Eliot said, “Envy is everywhere. Who is without envy? And most people are unaware or unashamed of being envious.” I am sure we all know this, but is there a pure and good envy? Can I compare it to covetousness? “Thou shalt not covet” says the tenth commandment, and yet the apostle urges every Christian to covet the best gifts, to covet for themselves love and joy and peace. That is the context in which he now wants to stir unbelievers up to envy the very best graces and virtues, in other words, to long to have them themselves. That is to be our high ambition. The envy which is a grudging discontent or a sinful covetousness is wickedness. But to see someone with a peace that passes all understanding or a happy confidence in the forgiveness of their sins, or submission in suffering and in death – who would not envy such maturity and long to have it for oneself? That is not something uniquely given to special believers. That is a grace which every single Christian possesses to a greater or lesser degree depending on how long they have been walking with Christ and how seriously they have sought to please God. Every Christian has a new heart and a new nature. Part of evangelism is to stir up the dispossessed to long for a knowledge of Jesus Christ and his salvation and new life in him. “You may have this; life is more than your poor struggling dying pace,” we can say to sinners. See how full of grace and beauty such a life is, and you may receive it into your heart if you confess your sin and take Christ as your Saviour. You take all his graces when you take Jesus. He is to be desired, and Christlikeness is to be desired as in itself good, a blessing from God, which he means all his people to enjoy. So to ‘covet’ it and to ‘envy’ those who have it is not at all unworthy. This kind of desire is right in itself, and to arouse it is one motive in ministry.
ii] Secondly, it is remarkable because Paul regards arousing his own (Jewish) people to be envious as an actual aspect of his ministry to the Gentiles. Paul longs that the Gentiles in the Roman church should shine brightly in whatever they do in the city, even if they are slaves for a wealthy Jewish family, even in those houses to glitter with Christ-likeness to be noticed and envied by their Jewish employers. You understand, you do not consciously think, “I am going to make them envious.” You think. I must love God when they are not around watching how I work. I must love them as I love myself and do everything to the glory of God. I must give my Jewish mistress a gentle answer that turns aside her wrath. I must not retaliate; I must turn the other cheek. I must overcome the evil things they say to me and do to me with good. I must go the second mile and work in the house late and long and thoroughly.” But that kind of lifestyle makes observers envious. We have seen from our text that in these verses he is turning to the Gentiles in the congregation and addressing them in particular about their responsibility to the Jews. I wonder was he a bit embarrassed to do so? Wouldn’t this congregation in Rome be overwhelmingly Gentile, and yet he has so much to say to them about the Jews. He keeps returning to this theme. What if this congregation in Aberystwyth had to hear me talking to them a great deal about Americans? Many of you would find that unacceptable, and I am sure my wife would tell me, “You talk an awful lot about Americans.”
But Paul is explaining the balances; “You Gentiles have been blessed because of Jewish rejection. Now God has opened the doors widely to Gentiles and sent me to spearhead the work. Now there is a compensating duty that you have of living a Messiah-honouring holy life before them to stir them up to envying you and longing that they lived like you. The machinery for the winning of the Gentiles has been set up and all the wheels are turning. Our King has sent us into all the world and told us to preach the gospel to every creature. Now back your words up by the life of heaven in your lives. See what benefits will come to the Jews simply from your living a Christ-like life.”
PAUL DESIRES THAT UNBELIEVERS BE SAVED.
See what Paul says; “I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” (v.14). What is Paul talking about, that hope he had, that some of his own fellow countrymen, the Jews, be saved? Weren’t they already very religious people? Can you be very religious but not ‘saved’? Paul seems to think so. This word ‘saved’ is found 47 times in the New Testament alone. The verb ‘save’ is found a further 25 times, and that is why the Lord Jesus Christ is called the Saviour. Remember the word of the angel to Mary’s husband Joseph, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21), or the word to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). Or think of the chief priests shouting about Jesus as he hung on the cross, “He saved others himself he cannot save” (Mk. 15:31). Then there are the great claims made about the saving work that Christ does; “Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebs. 7:25). Or there is the case of the Philippian jailer, in charge of the prison, who sees the impact of the earthquake on his jail and fears that every prisoner has escaped. He is suicidal, “What must I do to be saved? Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Or Peter saying to the people of Jerusalem, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The word ‘save’ is one that we use every day. A building collapsed in Philadelphia on Wednesday and six, sadly, were killed but fourteen who were injured were saved. The National Library holding many of the treasures of Wales is alight and fire brigades arrive to save it. A boat is sinking and the lifeboat comes alongside for the crew to save as many of the passengers and crew as it can. If you had a five thousand pound debt on your hands you’d hope that a family member or a friend could save you from bankruptcy and prison. A little girl is abducted and hundreds search the hills and rivers to try to save her.
We are all familiar with the concept of being saved. The gospel of the New Testament tells us that God sent his Son into the world that we might be saved, saved from drowning in the alienation into which our lives had slipped, saving us from our estrangement from the living God we’ve been ignoring, while we have only the slightest contact with other men and women. We are lonely outsiders, and he saves us from that and puts us in the fellowship of the church. He saves us when our life is collapsing around us. He saves us from the enormous debt of our failures before God, when we had nothing to pay: he stepped in, and paid the debt in full himself on our behalf. He saves us from the crushing burden of our guilt, there being hardly a commandment we hadn’t broken in thought or in emotion or in word. He saved us from the condemnation that our sins have merited as we are facing death and judgment. We must all appear before the judgment seat of God. We were as lost as an abducted little girl but he came, the good Shepherd seeking and saving us. How has it been in your heart, with your imagination, with your lap top, in your relationships, in your family life, with your girl friend or boy friend? How is it with your taxes and business practices? How is it between you and God? The Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and so we need deliverance from our guilt and shame.
You say, “I still don’t see it.” Right, let me turn you to the simplest explanation of the life and death of Jesus Christ. It comes in the first letter of someone who was there on the edge of the execution crowd that first Good Friday, one of the disciples named Simon Peter. Why did Jesus die? Let Simon tell us. He ought to know. These are his words, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18). That is why. On the cross he suffered unspeakable agonies. Why did he bother? To bring us to God: to end the alienation; to bridge the gulf that God might come to us not as our Judge but as our Lover and Friend; he died to bring favoured men and women and their Creator and Judge together. That was Christ’s supreme purpose in coming to this earth at all.
What are the barriers in the way of God being reconciled to us? Our sins, of course. Our selfishness, lust, hate, greed, meanness, pride and all the rest of the horrid things in our lives. They acted like a great barrier between us and God. We couldn’t see across to the other side. We didn’t even know for sure if there was another side, and if anyone was there. But on the cross Jesus suffered to get that barrier pulled down. He achieved it by allowing the wall to fall on himself. The righteous for the unrighteous: that was it. He, the holy and spotless one, took the place of us the unjust, paying our debts, bearing our load, serving our sentence, appeasing the anger of a sin-hating God. He did it so that we could be well and truly forgiven by God without for one moment denying his justice. He responded to his Son being made sin for us by condemning that sin in his Son. Though he loved his Son so much he also loved us, and Jesus Christ loved us, and together Father and Son devised and accomplished our deliverance from the guilt and blame and power of sin. One day they will deliver us from its very presence and contamination in our loves. It was all fair: the Lord himself had borne the penalty in our place.
Once you see that, it takes your breath away. Did he love sinners that much? Yes, Calvary proves it. What, even me? Yes, even you if you confess to him your guilt and blame. Humble yourself and fall into his loving arms that are stretched out for you now. He loved sinners that much. “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” said Paul, the rebel turned disciple. He never ceased to wonder at it. Can you blame him? Wouldn’t you have your own heart beat faster at the thought that the Maker of the heavens and earth should love you enough to go to those lengths to save you from the results of your own stupid selfishness and that you and he should live together in a new heavens and earth for ever?
That knowledge sets a man free. That puts a new song in his mouth. That puts a new spring in his step. “The Son of God loved a man like me . . . just like me . . . and he gave himself for me.” O dearly, dearly has he loved, that I can be sure that I am forgiven because the guilt and the alienation has been settled once for all on that cruel — yet utterly glorious — cross. I am saved through the love of Jesus Christ.
I cannot give any human analogies to illustrate what happened on Golgotha. There aren’t any. A love which sacrifices itself not for its friends but for the ones hating the one offering himself on the cross, sacrificing himself that they may be freed – that has no comparison in all the world. Here is the love of the God who knows all about us but still determines to deliver us at this price. God’s only begotten Son freely lays down his life for contemptible and worthless men and women like us! God punishes him and we are justified. There’s no analogy in human experience to this love, no sea captain going down with his ship; no mother sacrificing herself for her baby, no fireman entering the blazing building to save a stranger – nothing compares with this for one moment. You will not find anything in the other religions that remotely compares with this. It is utterly and gloriously unique. There is nothing in the whole wide world like the love of God for sinners. That is why you should bother with Jesus. He loves sinners like you so much that he was willing to go through all that to save us. Can you look him in the eye, as he stretches out his nail-pierced hands to you in welcome, and say “Why should I bother about you?” Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – right into him – and you will be saved. You believe now. You trust what I’ve said, and that’s good, but more than that, you must trust right into Jesus Christ alone as your Saviour.
9th June 2013 GEOFF THOMAS