The Burden of the Gospel
© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15
The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is one of the most eminently practical books in the New Testament. It is also among the most foundational books in the New Testament, meaning that the truths it teaches are foundational to understanding the rest of the New Testament, as well as to living the Christian life. The Book of Romans, as it is commonly called, has sometimes been referred to as “the Gospel of God’s Grace” because that is the theme of the book, and that theme is woven throughout the entire epistle.
In this Book:
- The Gospel is clearly defined and explored.
- The effect of the Gospel is examined and expounded upon.
- The built-in responsibilities of the recipients thereof are outlined, as well.
Even in the beginning lines, we can see these interwoven ideas begin to unfold. Paul identifies himself in terms of the Gospel, and, in the same breath, defines the source and key subject of the Gospel; the person of Christ. He goes on to state the effect of the Gospel in his own life and that of the recipient believers. Finally, he begins to state his own responsibilities, in regard to the Gospel.
This is the “burden of the Gospel”. I use the word “burden” in the same sense as Paul did over in Galatians 6:5 “for every man shall bear his own burden.” The Greek word there is “phortion”, meaning an assigned task. This is in contrast to the word in Galatians 6:2 where we are admonished to “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There, the Greek word is “baré”, meaning a crushing, unbearable load. The Gospel is not a crushing burden, but it is an assigned task, and should become a governing passion in each of our lives.
The Person of the Gospel
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
Paul introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ; an Apostle (“sent one”), but immediately shifts the focus to the Gospel itself, which is what his apostleship is all about. I am reminded of a sheriff’s deputy, who, after briefly identifying himself as a minion of the court, immediately goes about the business upon which he has been sent: he is there neither to boast of his prowess as a lawman, nor to simply pass the time of day. He is there on business, and he immediately gets to the point. The “point” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the Gospel of God’s Grace.
Paul immediately says that he is “separated unto the Gospel of God”— set apart for the work of the Gospel; the Good News of God.
Having thereby stated his business, in verse one, Paul begins to expand upon that theme in the verses that follow: explaining the character of the Gospel, and what it concerns, and so forth. He says first that it was promised from time past, through God’s prophets. (A prophet is a speaker for God—a mouthpiece; a spokesman for God. God promised the Gospel through the prophets.)
Further, it concerns Jesus Christ—it’s about Jesus—who is God’s Son, and who is our Lord (Greek kurios—“master”), and who, in terms of human origin, is of the seed of David. This was in accordance with the prophets who unanimously said he would be of the lineage of David.
He points out that God placed His own authoritative “stamp of approval” on Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God with power, by the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead. (Yes, that ought to show his authority: only one person has the authority and power to raise the dead, immortal.)
In verse 5, Paul continues talking about the person of the Gospel, Jesus himself. He states that it is from Jesus Christ that he (and others) had received “Grace and Apostleship.” Now, Grace has two aspects…he was given Grace as the gift of eternal life (as we also have been), but he further received the grace (Greek “charis” also translated “gift”) of being an apostle.
Paul evidently had a multitude of spiritual gifts, which apparently went along with being an Apostle. I personally believe that Paul is the twelfth of the twelve Apostles, and that Matthias, through no fault of his own, was mistakenly chosen by lot (drawing straws, or whatever), and appointed to be the replacement for Judas Iscariot, in Acts chapter one. All the apostles (including Paul) were chosen by Jesus, personally, except Matthias. If I am mistaken, so be it, but it seems to me as though Jesus chose his own replacement apostle in the person of Paul, and that Peter may simply have spoken out of turn. However, all the eleven were involved, and God did not correct or rebuke them, so I will not state that they were wrong. It just seems that way to me. I may be mistaken. Matthias may have been God’s choice as well. In that case, I do not know for whom will be the “twelve thrones for the twelve apostles.” But it doesn’t matter: God knows. (By the way, there are other people spoken of as apostles, too, in scripture, so this is not at all a “cut and dried” issue.)
There is no question, however, as to the apostleship of Paul. He was chosen personally, by Jesus, and given a specific task— he was made the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). The word “apostle” means “sent one”. Paul was sent to take the Gospel to all nations, which was to result in the obedience of faith…or obedience to the faith…among all nations. Paul literally became the founder of the Gentile church. The Jewish church had begun under the ministry of Peter. But the Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ; and that was revealed first to Paul, though Jesus himself had hinted to that effect, saying “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) (The Mormons attempt to use this passage to justify some of their doctrines, but the Bible makes it absolutely clear that what Jesus was predicting was the joining of Jew and Gentile in one Body of Christ. There is no other Biblical interpretation.)
Paul states (verse 6) that the believers in Rome were also among the “called” of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you believe the Gospel, you are one of the “called” of Jesus Christ as well. You are definitely called to serve God with your life. You can do some thinking about what that might entail, but this is a Biblical imperative: If you belong to Jesus, you are to serve Him.
The Effect of the Gospel
Next, in verse seven, Paul addresses the recipients of the letter:
7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that the words “to be” are in italics, meaning that they were not in the original manuscripts… it means that the believers are called saints: “holy ones” (that’s what “saint” means.) It implies that being one of the holy ones of God is predicated upon being a believer in Jesus Christ, not having the approval of the Pope, or some other human. We are not made saints by people, but by God. And we are not called “to be” saints, as if it is to be at some time in the future, but now: from the moment we receive Him as our savior. Perhaps the translators only meant to imply that we are called to “be saints”…and had no intent of putting it into a future view at all. We are called to be saints. That is what is supposed to be happening…we are to behave as the holy ones of God, because we are the holy ones of God. We are set aside for His purposes, and His alone. We will discuss that more at a later date.
We can further see that the gift of God is in the following order: “Grace, then Peace.” This is consistent in all the epistles to the church, throughout the New Testament. If one feels they are not dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, then they cannot have Peace with God, let alone experience the peace of God, after conversion. There are those who reject God’s Grace, hoping to “earn” their own salvation. I have had people actually tell me this. They don’t understand that such earning is utterly impossible. Just as it was impossible for Cain to please God with the fruit of the cursed ground, in Genesis 4:3, it is impossible for any human to please God with the fruit of a life already cursed through original Sin. We have nothing to offer—it is ALL tainted by sin.
A person who claims that he is dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, but who subsequently supposes that he must work to “stay saved”, is still not understanding the point of “Grace”. What does the word “grace” mean, but “un-earned favor”? If you are trying to earn it, it is not Grace, but wages. We will address this idea later on, but for the moment, please see that if you want peace with God, you receive it by Grace. If you want the peace of God, you also receive it by Grace. There are things we are called to do in response to God’s Grace, to allow his Peace to flow unhindered (see Philippians 4:6-9), but those still have nothing to do with earning Grace.
In verses 8-12, Paul expresses his own longing, to go and see the Roman believers face to face.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
He evidently knew at least some of them, as he calls them by name, in the final chapter. But many he apparently had never met. He knew of their faith, and was thrilled to know of the fruit it was having in their lives. As a result of the testimony of the Roman believers, which he had heard everywhere he went, Paul prayed for them continually, especially longing to go visit them, and add to their joy by imparting “some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established”, or strengthened in their walk with God.
I don’t know what it was he hoped to do, beyond further teaching. Perhaps he actually intended to impart a “gift of the Spirit” as listed in 1st Corinthians 12, or Romans 12, but I really doubt it. From what we can see in the scripture, the gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit, at His discretion, and apparently at the moment of salvation, though such gifts may not come to light for some time, in many cases.
There is one passage that refers to a gift being in someone “by the laying on of hands of the presbytery”, but I wonder whether that may simply be the recognition of the gift (as that is universally what the “laying on of hands” refers to. When the elders laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 13, for example, they were simply acknowledging that God had called Paul and Barnabas to the work they were going to do. The Holy Spirit had spoken (evidently audibly) to the group, telling them that He was going to send Paul and Barnabas out for a special job. All they did was to agree with God. I suspect that was also the case with Timothy (1st Timothy 4:14), and the gift of Evangelism that apparently was assigned to him by God.
Paul further expanded on the idea of a spiritual gift by saying, “that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” What he evidently hoped to do is to enjoy fellowship with them. The word fellowship is an old English idea which only means the “status of being a fellow (something)”. The word “fellowship” has nothing to do with “two fellows in a ship” as so many modern preachers are fond of saying. Fellows can be in a ship and despise one another. (Anyone ever hear of a ship called the “HMS Bounty”? Captain Bligh, and all those jolly good fellows?) In England they have what is called the “Royal Society.” It is considered a great honor to be called an “FRS”—a “Fellow of the Royal Society”… a fellow-member of that elite group. We have fellowship because we are fellow-Christians… we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. It implies “partnership”—having in common—sharing something…participating together in something. Paul commended the Philippian believers for their “fellowship in the Gospel”…they were participating with him as partners in the work of evangelism. Paul knew that these believers were his brothers and sisters, and he longed to go spend some time with them. I can only wish that Christians felt this way about one another today, but they seldom do. We are exhorted to grow in grace and brotherly Love, increasing more and more. But it seems the Church today has gone the other direction. God help us to love one another with the Agapé love, as well as learning the brotherly love that God commands.
The Burden of the Gospel
13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
Notice that in verse 13, Paul begins to explain his motivation in his travels: he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren…” (I want you to know…) that I often intended to come visit you, but was restrained, until now. I wanted to come there, in order to have fruit there, as I have everywhere else. He wanted to lead others to Christ in Rome, and to impart wisdom and maturity to the believers there. He wanted to build up the Church, there.
What had originally been an assignment from Jesus had become a personal passion to Paul. This was not a simple statement of duty, but a personal burden for the souls of those for whom Jesus died. He was determined to preach the Gospel to those in Rome just as he had everywhere else. (He hadn’t been there, yet.) He considered himself to have a debt to pay in Rome and elsewhere. Notice too, that he did not limit his ministry to “the elect”: in verse 14 and 15, he states categorically that he considered himself a debtor to all: Greeks, Barbarians, wise and foolish. He clearly understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the whole world, as did the Apostle John. John states that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:2) Paul echoes that conviction, stating that he himself was a debtor to the people around him, wherever he went: He owed them the Gospel.
Whenever God opened the door for him to go to Rome, he was ready to go. We know he eventually got there, but as far as we know he only went there in chains, as a prisoner. He was in prison there for at least a few years, and we know that he led many to Christ from that prison cell. The location had changed, but the burden was still the same.
As we read through the rest of the Book of Romans, We will see that the Lord Jesus is the central figure in all of the Bible, and that he has called us to be set aside for His service. We will also see the lostness of the human race. We can see here in Romans 1:14 that Paul considered himself to owe the Gospel to everyone around him.
Do we take that assignment seriously? Has it become a guiding passion, for you, to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, and then use them as they arise? To pray for wisdom as to when to not offer the Gospel, and when to speak boldly?
Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish his work.” The job had never been just a task to Jesus: it was his burning passion from the beginning. Apparently it had quickly become the same for Paul. Where is your passion? There are multiple assignments that we all have as believers: we are to pull our own weight in every area—taking care of our needs and those of our families, making good use of our time, loving the brethren, etc. But where does the Gospel fit into the equation? Is that the passion of your life or just something you think about once in a while? Give that some thought: What is the primary “burden” in your life?
Lord Jesus, help us to share your compassion for the Lost, and to willingly take up and bear the Burden of the Gospel, for the sake of your Glory.